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Mars: prelude to an orbit.

Coasting through space, the Mars Observer snapped this image of the Red Planet on July 28 to test its high-resolution, narrow-angle camera.

Despite dim light and an intervening distance of some 3.6 million miles, the photograph reveals glimmers of bright and dark markings etched by dust and sand. In the dark center, above the sunrise line, lie the volcanic plains and vast sand dunes of Syrtis Major. The bright area of the northern polar cap halos the top of the planet.

The Mars Observer will enter orbit, 248 miles above the Martian surface, on Aug. 24 (see p. 104). Once in orbit, the spacecraft will send back detailed pictures of geologic features such as the polar ice cap, where layers of dust surround icy deposits. These deposits "may reflect a much more arid period of Mars' past," says Bevan M. French, program scientist for the Mars Observer mission at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The new images will help scientists attain one of the mission's major objectives: an understanding of the climate of Mars, French says. The high-resolution camera will be able to discern objects as small as 1.4 meters across--about 20,000 times greater detail than that captured in the image shown here.
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Title Annotation:Mars Observer photograph of planet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 14, 1993
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