Taking advantage of Mars's closest approach to Earth in eight years, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the space-based observatory's sharpest views yet of the Red Planet. The telescope obtained four images, which, together, show the entire planet. Each view depicts the planet as it completes one quarter of its daily rotation.


In these views the north polar cap is tilted toward the Earth and is visible prominently at the top of each picture. The images were taken in the middle of the Martian northern summer, when the polar cap had shrunk to its smallest size. During this season the Sun shines continuously on the polar cap. Previous telescopic and spacecraft observations have shown that this summertime "residual" polar cap is composed of water ice, just like Earth's polar caps.


The Martian surface is dynamic and ever changing. Some regions that were dark 20years ago are now bright red; some areas that were bright red are now dark. Winds move sand and dust from region to region, often in spectacular dust storms.


Image Credit: Steve Lee (University of Colorado), Jim Bell (Cornell University), Mike Wolff (Space Science Institute), and NASA

A Close Hubble Encounter With Mars - 4 Views