At first, viewers on Earth got the chance to see Mars in near real time.
the ESA broadcast on YouTube Historic live photos direct from the red planet.
The event marked the 20th anniversary of the launch of the agency’s Mars Express orbiter – a mission to take 3D images of the planet’s surface to see it in more complete detail.
said James Godfrey, director of spacecraft operations European Space Agency mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, in a statement. “I’m excited to see Mars as it is now — as close to Mars ‘now’ as we can get!”
But haven’t we seen pictures of Mars before? Yes, but not live, said the ESA.
The European Space Agency said that data and observations of the Red Planet are often taken when the spacecraft is not in direct contact with Earth, so the images are stored until they can be transmitted again.
Depending on where Mars and Earth are in their orbits around the Sun, messages traveling through space can take anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes.
The agency said that the European Space Agency estimated that the light needed to form the images would take about 17 minutes to travel directly from Mars to Earth and then another minute to pass through wires and servers on Earth to start the live broadcast.
The European Space Agency shared images it deemed as close to life as possible during the June 2 event. The images were sent back to Earth with a delay of about 17 minutes, or the time it takes for information to travel between Mars and Earth.
“Note, we haven’t tried anything like this before, so the exact travel times of the signals on the ground remain somewhat uncertain,” the agency said in a statement ahead of the event.
Colin Wilson, project scientist at the European Space Agency, noted that there were no stars visible in the background of the images because Mars is so bright.
Images from the Mars Express spacecraft are taken about once every 48 seconds, according to the European Space Agency. A brief outage occurred when a ground station on Earth was unable to collect data being pinged by the spacecraft due to bad weather.
“If you’re very close to it, it’s much brighter,” Wilson noted, and that obscures the surrounding stars at this very angle from which the spacecraft is taking the images.
But if you’re on the Mars Express spacecraft, you’ll be able to see a lot of the universe, Wilson added. “And that’s actually critical to how Mars Express navigates,” he said. The spacecraft uses an onboard map and its imaging of the stars to orient itself in space, much as humans navigated the oceans centuries ago.
Mars appears to be moving through photo frames throughout the live feed, as the Mars Express spacecraft moved across the planet. The back of the planet also appeared shaded because it was a Martian night, the equivalent of half the Earth in darkness at any time.
Over the course of an hour, new views of Mars were expected about every 50 seconds, according to the release an agency before the event. However, ESA scientists noticed that for some time, transmissions from Mars were interrupted, as a ground station near Madrid suffered from bad weather.
Some viewers may also have noticed that the Red Planet did not appear as red as expected. Jorge Hernández Bernal, part of the visible Mars Express camera team, noticed during the live broadcast that Mars was appearing as if you took a picture with an iPhone, not as it can be seen with the naked eye.
In the end, the spacecraft got too far to continue taking pictures of Mars, but the European Space Agency said it will continue to share updates on social media.
“Color is a very complex subject related to the way our eyes work,” he noted. The spacecraft’s images also undergo some processing to remove “noise” — or unwanted disturbances in the images — that can also alter their appearance.
About an hour’s worth of images were sent back from Mars Express before the spacecraft moved too far from Mars to continue capturing the planet. Scientists note that additional updates will be shared Twitter.
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