Science Scoops: Spacecraft Snaps Record Image

On November 5, 2001, nearly five years to the day after it was launched, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft took its 100,000th picture of Mars. No other spacecraft has taken as many pictures of the Red Planet. NASA's twin Viking orbiters have come the closest, returning a total of about 55,000 images of the planet between 1975 and 1980.

And just what was the 100,000th snapshot? The new digital image shows a 1.5-kilometer-wide portion of a valley north of Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. The valley floor is covered by windblown dunes, a common sight on Mars. Its slopes show dark streaks where debris has slid downward. The image is fairly hazy, due to the effects of a global dust storm that engulfed the entire planet between July and October.

So far, about two-thirds of the images returned from Mars Global Surveyor have been examined, cataloged, and archived on the Internet. The images can be viewed freely on the Web site of Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company that operates the camera on behalf of NASA.


  1. Why do you think NASA took so many pictures of Mars? What have those pictures allowed NASA to do?
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that taking pictures is the easiest way to learn something about the planet. Students might answer that taking so many pictures allowed NASA to figure out where to send and land the rover on Mars.]
  2. Why do you think NASA is so interested in learning about Mars?
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that NASA is interested in learning about Mars because it is one of the more accessible planets to us. Also, some people hope that evidence of water can be found on Mars. Some people would be interested in colonizing Mars if the conditions were right.]
  3. What would be some of the challenges of building a permanent settlement on another planet? Write a few sentences to explain your answer.
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that regulating temperature and oxygen levels, finding water, and growing food would all be challenges related to building a permanent settlement on another planet.]