Donald Savage

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1727)

Mary Hardin

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

(Phone: 818/354-0344)

Dr. Ken Edgett

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, CA

(Phone: 858/552-2650 x500)

RELEASE: 00-82

More than 20,000 new images of the planet Mars taken by NASA’s Mars Global
Surveyor spacecraft are now available in a web-based photo album — the single largest
one-time release of images for any planet in the history of solar system exploration.

The ‘picture postcard’ scenes in the new images reveal the Red Planet, often said to be
the most Earth-like planet, as an alien, bizarre and puzzling world.

“These are exciting times for Mars scientists and this release of images is in my opinion
something unprecedented in the Mars science business,” said Dr. Ken Edgett, staff scientist
at Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, CA. “People everywhere with Internet access
will be able to take their own personal journey of exploration and discover Mars via these
pictures. They can experience them the same way that Mars Global Surveyor scientists
do — one at a time, no captions or explanations, just ‘Here it is. What does it show me?'”

The archive of images now covers a period that spans one Mars year (687 Earth days),
beginning in September 1997 with pictures taken during the aerobraking phase and
extending through August 1999 when Global Surveyor was well into its mapping mission.
Many of the pictures have such high resolution that objects on the surface the size of a
school bus can be seen.

According to the Mars Orbiter Camera imaging team, placing these images within
NASA’s Planetary Data System for archiving is an important step in the Mars Global
Surveyor mission that permits the public to examine the original data and make discoveries
“for themselves.”

“Putting these data into perspective is very difficult. We have focused on ‘themes.’
Layers on the Martian surface are the biggest ‘theme’ or ‘finding’ of the imaging investigation
so far. To a geologist, layers record history and they are the most geologically important,
profound thing we have seen,” said Dr. Michael Malin, principal investigator for the camera
system at Malin Space Science Systems. “We see layers in the walls of canyons, craters,
and troughs. We see layers in both the north and south polar regions. We see them in the
craters on top of volcanoes, we see them in pits at the bottoms of impact craters, we see
them virtually everywhere that some process has exposed the subsurface so that we can
see it from above.”

“Seeing Mars up close through the narrow angle camera has been a humbling
experience. We often find surfaces for which there are no obvious analogs on Earth, like
certain ridges that look like dunes. Our terrestrial geologic experience seems, at times, to
fail us,” Edgett said. “Perhaps it is because water is the dominant force of erosion on Earth,
even in the driest desert regions. But on Mars that force of change may have been
something else, like wind. The ridges seen in places like the Valles Marineris floors are
strange. They aren’t dunes because they occur too close together, their crests are too
sharp, their slopes too symmetrical. They often appear to be a specific layer of material that
has undergone erosion — we just wish we knew what processes are involved that cause this
kind of erosion.”

The camera system uses a “push-broom” technique that systematically builds up
pictures of the surface directly below one line at a time as the spacecraft orbits Mars. The
wide-angle lens provides a complete low-resolution global map of the planet every day
showing surface features and clouds at a resolution of about 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers). The
narrow-angle telescope takes close-up pictures of small areas with a resolution of about 5
feet (1.5 meters). Because of the extremely high data volume of the high-resolution images,
controllers cannot use this mode continuously. Instead, they painstakingly plan which areas
they want to target.

Mars Global Surveyor was launched on November 7, 1996 and arrived at Mars on
September 12, 1997. The spacecraft has made more than 5,000 orbits of and has been
systematically mapping the Red Planet since March 1999.

Mars Global Surveyor is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Office of
Space Science, Washington, DC. The camera system was built and is operated by Malin
Space Science Systems, San Diego, CA. JPL’s industrial partner is Lockheed Martin
Astronautics, Denver, CO, which developed and operates the spacecraft. JPL is a division
of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

– end –

NOTE TO EDITORS: The archive of images can be found at:
A subset of the images can be seen at: and