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Mars probe sends first view from orbit

The image from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was taken at an altitude of 2,490 km and shows an area of the planet's mid-latitude southern highlands.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 13:12 IST

A high-resolution camera aboard NASA's latest spacecraft to reach Mars sent back its first view of the Red Planet from orbit, the space agency has said.

The crisp test image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was taken late on Thursday at an altitude of 2,490 kilometres and shows a 50 kilometre-by-19 kilometre area of the planet's mid-latitude southern highlands. The mosaic of 10 side-by-side exposures shows a cratered surface with ravine- or canyon-like channels on both sides.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that the smallest discernible objects are about 7.6 metres across, but that the camera will be able to capture images of objects less than three feet across once it reaches its much lower "mapping orbit."

The quality bodes well for future pictures, said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

"The performance of the spacecraft looks superb, there's certainly no obvious smear here," he said in a telephone interview. "They have pointed us and oriented us just right to get unsmeared images."

The spacecraft reached Mars on March 10 and went into a giant elliptical orbit. Over a period of months it will dip into the upper atmosphere in a process called aerobraking to reach altitudes between about 320 kilometres and 254 kilometres and to make its orbit more circular.