Photo in the News: Mars Orbiter Spies Victoria Crater

Victoria crater image
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October 6, 2006—This is one reconnaissance mission that may finally reveal Victoria's secrets.

An image released today by the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson exposes the distinctive lacy scallops of Mars's Victoria Crater in unprecedented detail. The feature, an impact crater near the Martian equator, is approximately half a mile (800 meters) in diameter.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this striking shot on Tuesday as it passed 168 miles (269 kilometers) above the surface of the red planet. (Related news: "Mars's Gravity Captures NASA Spacecraft" [March 2006].)

Mission managers were particularly thrilled to see the Mars rover Opportunity perched on the edge of Cape Verde—an outlook with 20-foot-tall (6-meter-tall) cliffs—when they zoomed in on the image.

"Alfred, I've got to say, that image with that little rover 200 million miles [322 million kilometers] away parked at the top of that cliff, it's one of the most evocative images I've ever seen," rover lead scientist Steve Squyres told Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, according to a New Scientist report.

Opportunity had arrived at the rim of Victoria Crater five days before this snapshot was taken. Researchers hope that the rover's mission to the crater will provide insight into the geologic history of Mars.

The feature's high walls expose several layers of sedimentary rock and might offer clues to whether the red planet once had an abundance of liquid water—the key ingredient for life as we know it.

—Victoria Gilman

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