HUBBLE CAPTURES BEST VIEW OF MARS EVER OBTAINED FROM EARTH
Frosty white water ice clouds and
swirling orange dust storms above a vivid rusty
landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic planet in this
sharpest view ever obtained by an Earth-based telescope.
NASA's Earth-orbiting Hubble Space
Telescope took the picture on June 26, when Mars
was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km)
from Earth -- the closest Mars has ever been to
Earth since 1988. Hubble can see details as small
as 10 miles (16 km) across. The colors have been
carefully balanced to give a realistic view of Mars'
hues as they might appear through a telescope.
Especially striking is the large amount
of seasonal dust storm activity seen in this image.
One large storm system is churning high above the
northern polar cap [top of image], and a smaller
dust storm cloud can be seen nearby. Another large
dust storm is spilling out of the giant Hellas impact
basin in the Southern Hemisphere [lower right].
Hubble has observed Mars before, but
never in such detail. The biennial close approaches
of Mars and Earth are not all the same. Mars' orbit
around the Sun is markedly elliptical; the close
approaches to Earth can range from 35 million to
63 million miles.
Astronomers are interested in studying
the changeable surface and weather conditions on
Mars, in part, to help plan for a pair of NASA missions
to land rovers on the planet's surface in 2004.
The Mars opposition of 2001 serves
as a prelude for 2003 when Mars and Earth will come
within 35 million miles of each other, the closest
since 1924 and not to be matched until 2287.
Credit: NASA and the Hubble
Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: J. Bell (Cornell U.)