Smile and say “cheese.”
Chances are if you tilted your head upwards over the weekend, you may have seen our neighborly planet Mars in the night sky. On May 22, Mars opposition occurred. During that time, the sun and Mars flanked Earth, each being on exact opposite sides of our planet. Mars, in planetary terms, was a mere 47.4 million miles away from us.
Prior to this event, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped a picture of Mars when the planet was around 50 million miles away. The new image reveals details down to 20 to 30 miles across, and even shows cloud coverage on the planet.
The image was shot on May 12.
NASA released the Hubble image with arrows pointing out some of the planet’s major features.
Some of the cloud coverage surrounds Syrtis Major Planitia, an inactive shield volcano. According to NASA, this feature was used by 17th-century astronomer Christiaan Huygens to determine Mars’ rotation rate.
South of Syrtis Major is Hellas Planitia basin. “About 1,100 miles across and nearly 5 miles deep, it was formed about 3.5 billion years ago by an asteroid impact,” according to NASA.
Smackdab in the center of the planet is an orange area known as Arabia Terra. The region covers around 2,800 miles. Dried river canyons snake through the densely cratered and eroded region.
To the south, dark areas known as Sinus Sabaeus and Sinus Meridiani run along the equator. The regions owe their darkness to the dark bedrock and fine-grained sand deposits. “These sand grains are coarser and less reflective than the fine dust that gives the brighter regions of Mars their ruddy appearance,” according to NASA.
Additionally, the new shot provides a glimpse of various areas where humanity has touched the Red Planet, including the landing sites for Viking 1, Mars Pathfinder, and the Opportunity rover.
On May 30, Mars will be the closest it’s been to Earth in 11 years, at about 46.8 million miles.