December 18, 2007
Now playing online -- a new Martian movie showing the planet rotating. The movie was made from four images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, built and designed by JPL. The images were taken within 36 hours of today's closest approach to Earth by Mars.
The camera captured the views when Mars was just 88 million kilometers (55 million miles) away.
Mars and Earth have a "close encounter" about every 26 months. This is due to differences in the two planets' orbits. For example, Earth orbits the sun twice as fast as Mars does, so it laps the Red Planet about every two years. And because both planets move in elliptical orbits, their close encounters vary in distance. In 2003, Mars was about 20 million miles closer than it is today.
One of the new images shows two dominant dark swatches just south of the equator that were labeled by early Mars observers. A large triangular shape to the right is Syrtis Major, while a horizontal lane to the left is Sinus Meridani. NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity landed at the western end of this region in January 2004, while its twin, Spirit, landed that same month on the other side of Mars. Both rovers are still operating nearly four years later.
The new images show no dust storms on Mars, but reveal significant clouds in the northern and southern polar cap regions. Another NASA Mars rover, Phoenix, will land in the northern polar region in May 2008.
JPL manages Opportunity, Spirit and Phoenix.
For more images, visit the Hubble site at http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2007/45/image/a/ .
Media contact: Jane Platt/JPL