And it's no ordinary camera. NASA said the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, or HiRISE, is the most powerful camera ever to orbit another planet. It has taken thousands of black-and-white images, and hundreds of color images, since it began science operations in 2006. A single HiRISE image will often be a multigigabyte image that measures 20,000 pixels by 50,000 pixels, which includes a 4,000-by-50,000 pixel region in three colors. It can take a computer up to three hours to process such an image. Despite the thousands of pictures already taken, less than 1% of the Martian surface has been imaged, NASA said.
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Public astronomers can view Mars maps using a new online tool called "HiWish" to see images already taken, check which targets already have been suggested and make new suggestions. Suggestions will be put into a targeting database, and may get selected as an upcoming observation. The HiWish site lets you then tack your suggestions and be notified when one of your suggestions gets taken.
NASA said that in addition to identifying the location on a map, anyone nominating a photo target will be asked to give the observation a title, explain the potential scientific benefit of photographing the site and put the suggestion into one of the camera team's 18 science themes. The themes include categories such as impact, seasonal and volcanic processes.
The HiRISE science team will evaluate suggestions and put high-priority ones into a queue. Thousands of pending targets from scientists and the public will be imaged when the orbiter's track and other conditions are right. If you are interested start here.
NASA's Mars Odyssey has been in the news this week because it is due to make a number of passes over the presumed dead Phoenix Mars Lander on the surface of the planet and listen for what the space agency called possible, though improbable, radio transmissions.
Odyssey will pass over the Phoenix landing site about 10 times this month and two longer listening tries in February and March trying to determine if the craft survived Martian winter and try to lock onto a signal and gain information about the lander's status.
Should the lander show signs of life, it should follow instructions programmed on its computer. If systems still operate, once its solar panels generate enough electricity to establish a positive energy balance, the lander would periodically try to communicate with any available Mars relay orbiters in an attempt to reestablish contact with Earth. During each try, the lander would alternately use each of its two radios and each of its two antennas, NASA stated.
The Phoenix Mars Lander went silent last November, after successfully completing its mission and returning unprecedented primary science phase and returning science data to Earth, NASA stated.
NASA said the lander operated two months longer than its planned three-month mission during summer on northern Mars before the seasonal ebb of sunshine ended its work. Since then, Phoenix's landing site has gone through autumn, winter and part of spring. The lander's hardware was not designed to survive the temperature extremes and ice-coating load of an arctic Martian winter, NASA said.
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