Western space explorers ready to capture new images of the surface of Mars

A team of Western University space explorers are capturing new images of the surface of Mars with the largest telescope ever used for a deep space mission as part of the ongoing Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Having already investigated 823 possible targets, Livio Tornabene and his team from Western’s Faculty of Science are preparing for their upcoming shift operating the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) as it begins its 211th imaging cycle from November 30 to December 12.

HiRISE is a camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit that was launched August 12, 2005 and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. The 65-kg, $40-million HiRISE is the highest resolution camera ever flown beyond Earth’s orbit – a camera equivalent to a 700 megapixel camera (the best digital cameras in 2014 achieve 36 megapixels by comparison). HiRISE captures images of the surface that are similar to taking photographs from a small aircraft but from an orbit approximately 250 km above Martian surface.

The two-week imaging campaign, which will capture as many as 150 new Martian images, is currently being planned by Tornabene, an adjunct research professor at Western’s Faculty of Science, graduate students Eric Pilles and Ryan Hopkins and undergraduate student Kayle Hansen.

The Western-based team is working closely with the HiRISE Operations Team, based at The University of Arizona (Tuscon), and lead Targeting Specialist Anjani Polit, to gather new scientific data for the Mars research community, including vital images for supporting the landing of three upcoming surface missions: InSight (NASA, 2016), ExoMars (European Space Agency, 2018) and Mars 2020 (NASA, 2020).

As a postdoctoral fellow, Tornabene served as one of six original Targeting Specialists for HiRISE from 2006 to 2009 and remains a member of the HiRISE Science and Operations Team. This is the first time that Tornabene and his Western-based team are planning HiRISE images from Western or anywhere else in Canada.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Renaud, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-661-2111, ext. 85165, jrenaud9@uwo.ca, @jeffrenaud99