View Full Version : Farewell to the Earth and the Moon - ESA's Mars Express Successfully Tests Its Instruments

Ron Baalke
July 17th 03, 04:08 PM
European Space Agency
Press Release No. 44-2003
Paris, France
17 July 2003

Farewell to the Earth and the Moon -- ESA's Mars Express successfully tests its

A unique view of our home planet and its natural satellite -- the Moon -- is one
of the first data sets coming from ESA's Mars Express. "It is very good news for
the mission," says ESA's Mars Express Project Scientist, Agustin Chicarro. These
and other data, such as those recording the major consituents of Earth as seen
from space, are the actual proof that the instruments on board Mars Express,
launched 2 June 2003, are working perfectly.

The routine check-outs of Mars Express's instruments and of the Beagle-2 lander,
performed during the last weeks, have been very successful. "As in all space
missions little problems have arisen, but they have been carefully evaluated and
solved. Mars Express continues on its way to Mars performing beautifully",
comments Chicarro.

The views of the Earth/Moon system were taken on 3 July 2003 by Mars Express's
High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), when the spacecraft was 8 million
kilometres from Earth. The image taken shows true colours; the Pacific Ocean
appears in blue, and the clouds near the Equator and in mid to northern
latitudes in white to light grey. The image was processed by the Instrument Team
at the Institute of Planetary Research of DLR, Berlin (Germany). It was built by
combining a super resolution black and white HRSC snap-shot image of the Earth
and the Moon with colour information obtained by the blue, green, and red
sensors of the instrument.

"The pictures and the information provided by the data prove the camera is
working very well. They provide a good indication of what to expect once the
spacecraft is in its orbit around Mars, at altitudes of only 250-300 kilometres:
very high resolution images with brilliant true colour and in 3D," says the
Principal Investigator of the HRSC, Gerhard Neukum, of the Freie Universität of
Berlin (Germany). This camera will be able to distinguish details of up to 2
metres on the Martian surface.

Another striking demonstration of Mars Express's instruments high performance
are the data taken by the OMEGA spectrometer. Once at Mars, this instrument will
provide the best map of the molecular and mineralogical composition of the whole
planet, with 5% of the planetary surface in high resolution. Minerals and other
compounds such as water will be charted as never before. As the Red Planet is
still too far away, the OMEGA team devised an ingenious test for their
instrument: to detect the Earth's surface components.

As expected, OMEGA made a direct and unambiguous detection of major and minor
constituents of the Earth's atmosphere, such as molecular oxygen, water and
carbon dioxide, ozone and methane, among other molecules. "The sensitivity
demonstrated by OMEGA on these Earth spectra should reveal really minute amounts
of water in both Martian surface materials and atmosphere," says the Principal
Investigator of OMEGA, Jean Pierre Bibring , from the Institut d'Astrophysique
Spatiale, Orsay, France.

The experts will carry on testing Mars Express's instruments up till the arrival
to the Red Planet, next December. The scientists agree on the fact that these
instruments will enormously increase our understanding of the morphology and
topography of the Martian surface, of the geological structures and processes --
active now and in the past, and eventually of Mars's geological evolution. With
such tools, Mars Express is also able to address the important "water" question,
namely how much water there is today and how much there was in the past.
Ultimately, this will also tell us whether Mars had environmental conditions
that could favour the evolution of life.

Note to editors

The Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) was developed by the
German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and built by EADS-Astrium GmbH in Friedrichshafen,

The Mars Express OMEGA spectrometer was developed and built by the Institut
d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France, in cooperation with LESIA at
Meudon/Paris Observatory, France, IFSI in Frascati, Italy, and IKI in Moscow,

For more information about Mars Express visit:



For more information about the ESA Science Programme visit:


For more information please contact:

ESA – Communication Department
Media Relations Office
Tel: +33(0)1 5369 7155
Fax: +33(0)1 5369 7690

Agustin Chicarro
ESA – Mars Express Project Scientist
Estec – Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 3613

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Neukum
Mars Express HRSC Principal Investigator
Freie Universität Berlin, Earth Sciences Dept., Germany
Tel: +49 30 8387 0579 (secretary: -575)

Dr. Jean-Pierre Bibring
Mars Express OMEGA Principal Investigator
Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France
Tel: +33 1 6985 8686
Email :

Further information:

ESA Media Relations Service
Tel: +33.(0)1.5369.7155
Fax: +33.(0)1.5369.7690

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Related links

* ESA Science


[Image 1:
Mars Express Earth-Moon image. On the night of 3 July 2003, the Mars Express
spacecraft was pointed backwards to obtain a view of the Earth-Moon system from
a distance of 8 million kilometres while on its way to Mars. This image is the
first picture of planetary objects obtained by the Mars Express's High
Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). Although the spatial resolution is low at this
great distance, the picture gives a good indication of what to expect from Mars
Express in its orbit around Mars. At only 250-300 kilometres above Mars, the
camera will obtain very high-resolution images, in brilliant colour and
impressive 3D of most of the Martian surface, at resolutions of up to 2 metres.
The image was built by combining a super resolution black-and-white snap-shot
image of the Earth and the Moon taken by the HRSC with colour information
obtained by the blue, green, and red sensors of the instrument.

Credits: Photo ESA/DLR/Freie Universität Berlin

[Image 2:
Mars Express records the composition of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

On the night of 3 July 2003, the Mars Express spacecraft was pointed backwards
to obtain a view of the Earth-Moon system from a distance of 8 million
kilometres while on its way to Mars. During a series of instrument tests, the
OMEGA spectrometer on board Mars Express acquired 'spectra' of the Earth and the
Moon, in visible and near-infrared light. This particular spectrum corresponds
to the entire Earth's illuminated crescent, dominated by the Pacific Ocean, and
indicates the molecular composition of the atmosphere, the ocean, and some
continents. As the peaks in the image indicate, water (H2O) and carbon dioxide
(CO2) dominate. Molecular oxygen (O2) is also identified, as well as ozone (O3),
methane (CH4) and several other minor constituents. During the observations, the
Earth rotated so as to offer a varying observed surface and atmospheric
composition. These Earth observations by OMEGA have several unique features. In
fact, OMEGA provided a global view of the Earth's disc from a high-phase angle,
contrary to low-orbit observations by previous space missions. Such global disc
spectra are useful not only for observations at Mars, but also to prepare future
observations of Earth-like planets, such as for the Darwin mission.

Credits: ESA/Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (Orsay, France)