Movie goers across the country will get the chance to see Matt Damon trek across “Mars” on Friday, Oct. 2 when the highly-anticipated film “The Martian” premiers in theatres nationwide.
Unfortunately, Damon is not actually on Mars (obviously). Instead, that iconic red-stained sand and those rocky plateaus are just a mock-up.
But we’ve got the real thing.
Since 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has been orbiting Mars snapping pictures of the surface with its HiRISE camera. Here’s a collection of some of the most incredible images the camera has taken over the years.
The HiRISE images shown here have false colouring that highlights distinct Martian features, like sand dunes shown in the image to the right. The false-colouring helps scientists see how the grooves and troughs of these features change over time.
In June 2014, Mars' southern hemisphere was nearing spring, but you can see that this 1-mile crater still has a smattering of frost on its south-facing walls. A second photo, taken during the Martian summer, showed that all the frost had disappeared.
This ancient crater on Mars, called Jezero Crater, is one of the candidate landing sites for NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission. What makes this spot so desirable is its clay minerals, which may have formed in the presence of liquid water. 'Jezero' is Slovenian for 'lake.'
Believe it or not, Mars has dust devils! This mesmerising picture shows the tracks that they trace in the sandy Martian surface.
Located along the eastern end of Mars' giant canyon, Valles Marineris, is the Arsinoes Chaos region, shown here. The formation of the sand ridges -- shown here separating the white, rocky protrusions -- is a mystery; they're too tall to be ripples but too short to be dunes.
Shown here are plateaus with gentle slopes lined with almost perfectly-spaced sand dunes. This spacing is sensitive to wind that helps give scientists clues of the sedimentary history of the surrounding terrain.
Take a close look at this unusual valley on Mars: You can see large horizontal ridges lining the valley floor with tiny, vertical sand dunes striping the face of each ridge. This suggests that the wind is either flowing from left to right (or visa versa).
The polar caps on Mars contain frost, shown here in white. But the frost isn't water-based; it's made of carbon dioxide. When temperatures heat up in the spring, this frost changes from its solid form directly to a gas in a process called sublimation.
There's a maze on Mars called Noctis Labyrinthus, which means 'labyrinth of the night.' Shown below is part of this maze known for its steep-walled valleys that twist and turn across the Martian surface.
Nili Patera is a caldera about 1.2 miles deep filled with rapidly moving sand dunes and ripples, shown here. This is one of the most active regions on Mars and is located near the equator, west of the third-largest impact basin on the planet, Isidis.
On one late-spring afternoon, the HiRISE camera snapped this picture of a towering dust devil in the Amazonia Planitia region on Mars. The plume is about 100 feet across and more than half a mile high!
Tall sand dunes in the southern hemisphere cast their shadows in this dramatic shot, which was taken during late autumn. Those white and blue streaks within the shadowed regions are early frost -- a sign of the coming winter.
These honeycomb-shaped features are common on Mars. Shown in white is frost that outline frost-free basins located in the northern lowlands on Mars.
Another common Martian feature are sand dunes, like these, which line the floor of one of the oldest craters on Mars, Noachis Terra. By taking multiple pictures of sand dunes, scientists can see how the size and shape change and use that to determine wind strength.
When the ice on Mars sublimates, wind can get at the exposed dirt and dust underneath. The black patches you see here in the planet's north polar region are pockets where ice disappeared and wind blew away the loose dust underneath.
During the summer on Mars' north pole, all of the surface ice is gone, revealing the cracked surface underneath. The cracks are likely from underground ice expanding and contracting with the seasons.
Proctor Crater is famous for its dunes, shown in exquisite detail here. In fact, these are some of the first sand dunes ever discovered on Mars.
This is what is referred to as an inverted crater. The dark-blue dunes circling the crater come from the basaltic volcanic rock. The inverted crater is in the Arabia Terra region and measures 800 feet across -- about the length of 5 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Like a serpent swimming across Mars' Hellas impact basin is this sand dune, which formed when Martian winds blew the same direction for a long period of time, in this case from east to west. These types of dunes, called barchan, are also common in desert regions on Earth.
The Nili Fossae region on Mars is incredibly rich in clay deposits, shown here in orange. Organic materials could be preserved in this water-infused clay, which is why scientists are especially interested in this region on Mars. The blue-green regions are rocks rich in pyroxene, which is common in igneous rocks on Earth.
The only name NASA has for this pentagonal-shaped feature is 'Weird Crater.' Craters are usually circular because they're made from meteors that strike straight down from the sky, but sometimes they will collide at a horizontal angle, making an elongated shape like this one:
Dark and light streaks crawl up a ridge in this picture of the Acheron Fossae region. Scientists are still debating how the different-coloured streaks formed, but they agree that the darker streaks are younger and likely turn into the lighter streaks over time.
One of the longest ancient valleys on Mars is the Samara Valles, which is 621 miles long. Shown here is a heavily cratered portion of the valley. The craters show up as circles that overlay the sand dunes.
When temperatures heat up in the Spring, the carbon-dioxide ice in the polar caps sublimates into the atmosphere, leaving behind these distinct starburst patterns. Why the melting process makes these characteristic patterns is a subject of ongoing research.
What created this jagged cracked surface in the Gordii Dorsum region on Mars is unknown. The rippled sand dunes suggest that these cracks were once large dunes themselves that mysteriously hardened over time.
The gullies in the left of this image are a topic of much debate. Scientists suspect that they either formed from flowing water, liquid carbon dioxide, or something else. There's evidence of extensive deposits of ice in this region of the northern half of Mars, which supports the theory that running water made these features.
The channels in this image are between 3 and 33 feet wide. They're located in one of the largest impact craters in the solar system called the Hellas impact basin. The crater is in the southern hemisphere on Mars.
Layers of rock are stacked like a staircase in this image of the Samara Valles. The pink substance in the upper left is opal, which happens to be the national gemstone of Australia.
This is a part of a heavily cratered region on Mars called Aureum Chaos. The jagged terrain shows evidence of channels and erosion that scientists think formed from massive flooding in Mars' distant past.
In the lower left corner of this image, which is about 2,000 feet across, is the platform that NASA's Spirit Mars rover drove off after landing in 2004. Most of Spirit's investigations happened about two miles east of its landing site.
This arresting image of sand dunes in the Noachis Terra of Mars spans a little over half a mile across. The different sizes and shapes of sand dunes are from changes in wind direction and wind strength over time.
The steep slope of a crater, shown here, is located on the floor of Valles Marineris -- a colossal canyon 2,500 miles long. The canyon is clearly visible from space, stretching across the Martian equator.
The Arabia Terra are highlands thought to be one of the oldest terrains on Mars. This is an image about 1.2 miles across showing part of the Arabia Terra, which stretches 2,800 miles across the surface. The uniform layers are each about 33 feet high.
Geologists think that this textured terrain, which resembles features in the Colorado Plateau, formed when lava in the area cooled unusually quickly from flooding. For scale, the picture spans half a mile.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity explored this hole in the ground, called Victoria Crater, between 2006 and 2007. The crater is about half a mile across and named for the first ship to ever circumnavigate the Earth.
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