Space Telescope Science Institute, Ann Feild Didyk
and Graphics Dept.
Mars' surface area roughly equals the combined area of Earth's
seven continents. Many of the classic landmarks labeled above were
identified in the 1800's.
Image A, at left, was taken Aug. 26, 2003, several hours before
the red planet had its closest encounter with Earth. The most striking
Martian features in this photo are Syrtis Major and the Hellas
Basin. Syrtis Major (the "shark-fin" shape on
the right) is covered with volcanic material. The Hellas impact basin
(the circular feature near the center of the image) has been pounded
Image B, at right, was snapped on Aug. 27, 2003, within minutes
of the red planet's closest meeting with Earth. When this photo was
taken, the two planets were 34,647,420 miles (55,757,930 km) apart.
This may seem like a vast distance, but compared with the distances
between other space objects, these planets were close.
There are two interesting features in this image: Olympus Mons and
Solis Lacus. Olympus Mons (the circular area just above center) is
the largest volcano in the solar system. Solis Lacus, also known
as the "Eye of Mars," is the immense oval-shaped with dark
markings that looks very much like an eye.
Both images show most of the southern polar ice cap (bottom of both
images), which is tilted toward Earth. The pictures were taken during
the middle of summer in Mars' southern hemisphere.
During this season the Sun shines continuously on the southern polar
ice cap, shrinking it. The cap is made up primarily of frozen carbon
dioxide, with smaller amounts of water ice. The orange streaks
across the ice are evidence of dust blowing over the polar cap.