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European Space Agency releases first images from ExoMars spacecraft

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the first images from its ExoMars spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the red planet since mid-October.

ExoMars, a spacecraft that will study the planet’s atmosphere in order to determine whether or not life has ever existed there, began testing its instruments from Nov. 20 to 28. 

The agency also released video as the spacecraft sped around Mars. 

The first sequence of images was taken at just 5,300 kilometres altitude before ExoMars made its closest approach. 

The spacecraft’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) creates images in four different colours: panchromatic (sensitive to all colours), red, near-infrared and blue, as is seen in the first part of the video.

The camera also photographed Hebes Chasma a 8,000 metre trough located in Valle Marineris, often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Mars. This vast area is the largest canyon in the solar system, which runs about 3,000 kilometres long and at one point 600 kilometres wide. By comparison, here at home, the Grand Canyon runs 300 kilometres long and is as wide as 30 kilometres in parts.

Valles Marineris Mars

Valles Marineris, seen in the centre of the image, cuts through the surface of Mars. (NASA)

A second image released by the ESA shows a 25-kilometre section of Arsia Chasmata. This region lies on Arsia Mons, one of the largest volcanoes known in our solar system. 

ExoMars crater

A 25-kilometre-wide image strip over a structure called Arsia Chasmata, which lies on the flank of the large volcano Arsia Mons. The formation is volcanic in origin and many pit craters can be seen. (ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE; mosaicking tool: AutoStitch [University of British Columbia])

The ExoMars team said it is anticipating more stunning high-resolution images such as these, though the pass over Hebes Chasma was the closest the spacecraft will come as it skirted over the planet at an altitude of just 235 kilometres. The final orbit will take it to an altitude of 400 kilometres. 

Unfortunately, Schiaparelli, the ExoMars lander crashed into the surface last month.