NASA has released the first crop of pictures chosen by you, the people, of interesting spots on Mars. Taken with the high-resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the pictures show boulder fields, mesas, sand dunes, pockmarked craters and even ice sheets that provide a glimpse of Martian climate changes. Astronomy buffs like James Secosky, a retired teacher in Manchester, N.Y., told NASA where to point and shoot.
“Some people get into model railroading or Civil War re-enactments. My thing is exploring Mars,” he said.
Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the camera at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said he hopes the photos will inspire future generations. Along with being a nice opportunity for public participation, the photos could yield some interesting observations, he said.
“We appreciate fresh thinking outside the box and look for things we may not have chosen otherwise. It’s good to have a lot of eyes on Mars,” he said.
Secosky’s photo, which shows a region about three-quarters of a mile across, contains yard-scale surface textures of mesas and knobs in the Aureum Chaos region of the Red Planet. The rock layers probably formed through volcanic or sedimentary processes, and groundwater later caused the formation to sink, resulting in a cluster of valleys and hills. Tiny bumps and dark lines represent individual knobs and the paths of boulders that rolled down the hills.
Other orbiter missions have used public input, including the Mars Odyssey probe, which started taking suggestions in 2009. So far, more than 2,400 people have sent suggestions for the Odyssey and MRO cameras.
Suggested photo ops have to be well-framed, however. Suggestions must include an explanation about the targets’ potential scientific benefit, and they must fit into one of 18 categories.
The Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned more data about Mars than all other spacecraft combined, according to NASA. But only about 1 percent of the planet has been photographed.