NASA’s Odyssey orbiter marks 20 historical years of mapping Mars

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NASA's Odyssey orbiter marks 20 historic years of mapping Mars


NASA’s Odyssey orbiter marks 20 historic years of mapping Mars
A sea of darkish dunes, sculpted via the wind into lengthy strains, surrounds the northern polar cap masking a space as large as Texas on this false-color symbol from NASA’s Mars Odyssey, the longest-working Mars spacecraft in historical past. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft introduced twenty years in the past on April 7, making it the oldest spacecraft nonetheless operating on the Crimson Planet. The orbiter, which takes its title from Arthur C. Clarke’s vintage sci-fi novel “2001: A Area Odyssey” (Clarke blessed its use ahead of release), was once despatched to map the composition of the Martian floor, offering a window to the previous so scientists may piece in combination how the planet advanced.


However it is finished way over that, uncovering troves of water ice, serving as a the most important communications hyperlink for different spacecraft, and serving to to pave the way in which no longer only for more secure landings but additionally long term astronauts.

Here is a partial checklist of Odyssey’s many accomplishments.

Mapping Martian ice

Odyssey’s twenty years of information were a boon for researchers operating to resolve the place water ice is locked up in the world. Working out the water cycle on Mars—a planet that was once as soon as a lot wetter, like Earth—gives insights into how it has modified through the years: How does water transfer across the planet nowadays? Does the lean of the planet impact the place ice is strong? Odyssey’s discoveries have helped chip away at the ones questions.

“Ahead of Odyssey, we did not know the place this water was once saved in the world,” stated Challenge Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the Odyssey undertaking. “We detected it for the primary time from orbit and later showed it was once there the use of the Phoenix lander.”

Retail outlets of water ice also are had to lend a hand astronauts continue to exist on Mars and to offer gasoline for his or her spacecraft. (In truth, astronauts had been the point of interest of an software aboard Odyssey that measured how a lot house radiation they must deal with ahead of it stopped operating in 2003.) The orbiter reveals the water ice the use of its gamma-ray spectrometer (GRS) detector, which has confirmed to be a succesful hunter of near-surface hydrogen—a proxy for water ice. The GRS measures the quantity of various parts at the Martian floor and in addition serves as a node in NASA’s interplanetary gamma-ray burst (GRB) detection community, which identifies supply places of GRB’s for follow-up astronomical observations.

What Mars is product of

Have a look at nearly any mapping find out about of the Martian floor, and it most probably comprises Odyssey information. For a few years, probably the most entire world maps of Mars had been made the use of Odyssey’s infrared digital camera, referred to as the Thermal Emission Imaging Gadget, or THEMIS. The digital camera measures the outside temperature day and night time, permitting scientists to resolve what bodily fabrics, comparable to rock, sand, or mud, exist. Its information finds the presence of those fabrics according to how they warmth up or calm down over the process a Martian day.

The online impact of twenty years’ price of all that mapping? Scientists have not simply used the knowledge to map valley networks and craters, they have got additionally been ready to identify sandstone, iron-rich rocks, salts, and extra—findings that lend a hand lend deeper perception to Mars’ tale. “It is laborious to overstate how the THEMIS world map has stuffed gaps in our wisdom,” stated Laura Kerber of JPL, Odyssey’s deputy challenge scientist.

NASA’s Odyssey orbiter marks 20 historic years of mapping Mars
If a meteorite breaks in two in a while ahead of hitting the bottom, the standard bowl form of a unmarried affect crater turns into doubled. This symbol is from NASA’s Mars Odyssey, certainly one of an ‘All Superstar’ set. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

More secure landings

THEMIS has despatched again greater than 1 million photographs since it all started circling Mars. The photographs and maps it is produced spotlight the presence of hazards, comparable to topographic options and boulders, however in addition they lend a hand be certain that the security of long term astronauts via appearing the positioning of assets comparable to water ice. This aids the Mars science neighborhood and NASA in deciding the place to ship landers and rovers—together with the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Feb. 18, 2021.

Regimen calls house

From early on, Odyssey has served as a long-distance name middle for NASA’s rovers and landers, sending their information again to Earth as a part of the Mars Relay Community. The speculation of Mars relay is going again to the 1970’s, when the 2 Viking landers despatched science information and photographs via an orbiter again to Earth. An orbiter can elevate radios or antennas able to sending again extra information than a floor spacecraft. However Odyssey made the method regimen when it all started conveying information to and from NASA’s Spirit and Alternative rovers.

“When the dual rovers landed, the luck of relaying information the use of UHF frequency was once a gamechanger,” stated Chris Potts of JPL, Odyssey’s undertaking supervisor.

On a daily basis, the rovers may cross someplace new and ship recent photographs again to Earth. Thru a relay like Odyssey, scientists were given extra information quicker, whilst the general public were given extra Mars photographs to be excited over. Odyssey has supported over 18,000 relay classes. At the moment, it stocks the communications job with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN, at the side of the ESA (Eu Area Company) Hint Gasoline Orbiter.

Sweet-Coloured moons

Odyssey has finished this sort of thorough process of finding out the Martian floor that scientists have began turning its THEMIS digital camera to seize distinctive perspectives of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos. As with the Martian floor, finding out each and every moon’s thermophysics is helping scientists resolve the homes of fabrics on their surfaces. Such data can be offering glimpses into their previous: It is unclear whether or not the moons are captured asteroids or chunks of Mars, blasted off the outside via an historical affect.

Long term missions, just like the Jap Area Company’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft, will search to land on those moons. Within the far away long term, missions would possibly even create bases on them for astronauts. And in the event that they do, they will depend on information from an orbiter that started its odyssey in the beginning of the millennium.

THEMIS was once constructed and is operated via Arizona State College in Tempe. Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer was once supplied via the College of Arizona, Tucson, Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory, and the Russian Area Analysis Institute. The top contractor for the Odyssey challenge, Lockheed Martin Area in Denver, evolved and constructed the orbiter. Project operations are performed collectively from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a department of Caltech in Pasadena.


Odyssey’s 3 perspectives of Martian moon Phobos


Supplied via
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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