KEY POINTS

  • NASA celebrated the 15th anniversary of the MRO's launch
  • The MRO studies Mars from its orbit
  • NASA shared images of various geological features on Mars

NASA recently shared various stunning photos that showcase Mars’ different surface features. The agency unveiled the photos as part of its celebrations for the launch anniversary of its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The MRO is a robotic spacecraft that was designed to study the climate and geological features of Mars from its orbit. It was officially launched on Aug. 12, 2005, and reached Mars on March 10 in the following year. Since then, it has been observing the red planet and taking beautiful photos from space.

Last week, NASA celebrated the 15th anniversary of the MRO’s launch. To commemorate the space probe’s achievements, the agency released some of the stunning photos captured by the MRO during the course of its mission. The images were captured using the High Resolution Imaging Experiment camera mounted on the MRO.

One of the photos features an avalanche as it unfolded on the side of a hill on Mars. According to NASA, avalanches on the red planet often occur as the ice layers on hills and mountainsides begin to melt due to changes in the season.

“As seasonal ice vaporized in the spring, these 1,640-foot-tall (500-meter-tall) cliffs at Mars' north pole began to crumble,” NASA explained. “Such cliffs reveal the deep time scales on the planet, exposing the many layers of ice and dust that have settled during different eras.”

Avalanche on Mars The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (Hi-RISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this avalanche plunging down a 1,640-foot-tall (500-meter-tall) cliff on May 29, 2019. The image also reveals layers at Mars' north pole during spring. As temperatures increase and vaporize ice, the destabilized ice blocks break loose and kick up dust. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Another photo shows a massive crater on the surface of Mars. NASA noted that since Mars’ thin atmosphere is only about 1% as dense as that of Earth’s, it does not have an effective barrier to protect its surface from objects falling from space.

As a result, large meteors and asteroids can easily go through the red planet’s atmosphere and cause impact events on the ground. The photo shared by NASA features an impact crater that has a diameter of about 100 feet. The discoloration surrounding the crater indicates the blast zone created by the space rock after it crashed on the surface.

Impact Crater on Mars A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013. Researchers used HiRISE to examine this site because the orbiter's Context Camera had revealed a change in appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the formation of the crater between those observations. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Another geological feature spotted by the MRO on Mars is a dust devil. A photo taken by the probe on Feb. 16, 2012, features a towering dust devil twirling around on the surface of Mars. Based on the image, NASA estimated that the dust devil in the photo measures about 2,620 feet tall.

Dust Devil on Mars A towering dust devil casts a serpentine shadow over the Martian surface in this image acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona