A view of Mars, European style

Although the Mars lander Beagle 2 is presumed dead (SN: 1/31/04, p. 67: Available to subscribers at Red Planet Roundup: Opportunity knocks; Spirit revives), its mother craft, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, has transmitted its first data from a polar orbit about the Red Planet. Researchers unveiled the findings Jan. 23 at the European Space Agency’s space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany.

EXPRESS VIEW. This 100-km view of a region near the Hellas basin on Mars shows a channel that may have been carved by flowing water. G. Neukum/ Frei Univ. Berlin, ESA, DLR

The observations include data from the craft’s infrared spectrometer that confirm the presence of water ice at the Martian south pole. NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft had previously found indirect evidence of water ice at the pole by revealing an abundance of hydrogen (SN: 1/18/03, p. 45: Available to subscribers at Mars reveals more frozen water).

Mars Express’ high-resolution stereo camera, which will map the entire planet in 3D during the craft’s 2-year mission, has recorded a 1,700-kilometer-long swath of Valles Marineris, the Grand Canyon of Mars. Depicting mountain ranges, valleys, and mesas that may have been carved by water, the image is the first large-scale picture of a region on Mars showing details as small as 12 meters across.

While new software is loaded onto the orbiter this month, the craft’s detectors won’t be taking data. In April, the spacecraft will begin scanning the planet with soil-penetrating, low-frequency radar beams, looking for echoes from liquid water as deep as 5 km below the surface.

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