Thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and its powerful camera HiRISE, NASA has been able to release more than 1,000 images of the surface of Mars, the like of which we have rarely seen before.
Mars continues to fascinate both astronomers and the public alike and, unless a drastic change in intentions occurs, it will be the first planet aside from our own that humans will set foot on.
Before this can happen, however, we need to do some reconnaissance work. The MRO has been orbiting the Red Planet to map it in as much detail as possible, to help us understand the planet and how its weather behaves, and also choose a human landing site for a future mission.
And now, thanks to an aligning of cosmic events, the MRO has been able to send back a treasure trove of images that look more like a distant alien world than one of our nearest neighbours.
According to The Verge, this cosmic alignment is actually a phenomenon called ‘opposition’ that occurs every 26 months when Mars and the sun are located on opposite ends of the Earth’s skyline.
What makes this so important for NASA and other researchers here on Earth is that it marks a time when the MRO can send huge amounts of scientific data and images back for a period of a few weeks, almost completely uninterrupted.
This year, opposition was calculated as occurring in May and, to make these new images even more impressive, the equinox on Mars illuminated the planet from pole to pole in brilliant light.
This has resulted in many of the images you see below, which many would struggle to identify as Mars.
All body images via NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Mars-like surface main image via Shutterstock