Story at a glance

  • The false-colored image released by the U.S. space agency last week shows a sea of blue and yellow sand dunes created by gusts of wind around the red planet’s northern polar cap.
  • The photo was composed of several images taken from December 2002 to November 2004 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter’s infrared camera.
  • The blue color represents cooler temperatures while the shades of yellow and orange indicate warmer areas.

NASA has shared a stunning photo of Mars in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Odyssey orbiter, the longest working Mars spacecraft in history. 

The false-color image released by the U.S. space agency last week shows a sea of blue and yellow sand dunes created by gusts of wind around the red planet’s northern polar cap. The dunes cover an area as big as Texas. 


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The photo was composed of several images taken from December 2002 to November 2004 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter’s infrared camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System and displays an area about 19 miles wide. 

The photo is a false-color image, meaning the colors are representative of temperatures. The blue color represents cooler temperatures while the shades of yellow and orange indicate warmer areas. 

Odyssey launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 7, 2001 and began orbiting Mars on Oct. 24, 2001. 

The spacecraft has mapped the chemical elements and minerals that make up the red planet’s surface and led scientists to discover water ice in the polar regions buried beneath the surface. The orbiter has also recorded the radiation environment in low Mars orbit to “determine the radiation-related risk to any future human explorers who may one day go to Mars,” NASA says

The orbiter holds the record for the longest continually active spacecraft in orbit around a planet other than the Earth.


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Published on Apr 12, 2021