More incredible images from Barsoom

Since last night we have been treated to a continuing stream of stupendous images from Mars. Herewith two favourites.

Actually, the first one is a favourite, simply because it provides one of the first colour shots of Mars’s Northern plain; the second is absolutely BREATHTAKING, because it may seem aesthetically banal…but is profound and awesome in its meaning.

UMSF colour

Above is a nice preliminary attempt at colourisation by a member of the UMSF community.

Below…well, judge for yourselves.

Phx parachute






 To those readers who have no specific interest in planetary exploration, this parachute pic may seem like a relatively humdrum affair.

But consider that it was taken by an orbiting spacecraft that was travelling thousands of kph around Mars and had to be positioned precisely on target in order to capture this falling object, which is a parachuting lander travelling at somewhere close to the speed of sound with respect to the ground. Moreover, the picture was taken with a high resolution camera that had to be rotated (actually, they had to rotate the spacecraft AROUND the camera, which is even more complicated) in order for the image not to be smeared by the various motions involved…and all of this was carried out remotely, via radio signals and electronic commands from a distance of 278 million kilometres.

EDIT (from the NASA Phoenix site): 

From a distance of about 310 kilometers (193 miles) above the surface of the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter pointed its HiRISE obliquely toward Phoenix shortly after it opened its parachute while descending through the Martian atmosphere.

The image reveals an apparent 10-meter-wide (30-foot-wide) parachute fully inflated. The bright pixels below the parachute show a dangling Phoenix.

The image faintly detects the chords attaching the backshell and parachute. The surroundings look dark, but correspond to the fully illuminated Martian surface, which is much darker than the parachute and backshell.

Phoenix released its parachute at an altitude of about 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) and a velocity of 1.7 times the speed of sound.

An informative little animation relating to this particular photographic manoeuvre has been posted here.

Consider: all of these movements and calculations had to come together flawlessly at one specific instant during the landing phase.

There was no second chance.

Call me a geek, but this is more than enough to make me pause and allow myself to be enchanted. Not simply by a certain aspect of mankind’s engineering prowess (with apologies to Alfie Gell and other postmo critics of enchantment), but by the fact that we are witnessing the descent of a man-made robot on another world…as imaged by another man-made robot which is orbiting that world.

This could be the stuff of sci-fi. But isn’t.



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