Exploring Mars with the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)

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Meet the MOM Spacecraft

spacecraft
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) being integrated into its launch shell by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The spacecraft is now orbiting Mars. ISRO

In late 2014, scientists with the Indian Space Research Organisation's Mars Orbiter Mission watched as their spacecraft achieved a stable orbit around the planet Mars.   It was the culmination of years of work to send this "proof of concept" spacecraft to Mars, the first such interplanetary mission sent by the Indians. Although the science team is heavily interested in the Martian atmosphere and climate, the Mars Colour Camera onboard has been sending back some gorgeous images of the Martian surface. 

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MOM's Instruments

the Mars Orbiter mission
An artist's concept of the Mars Orbiter Mission at the Red Planet. ISRO

The MOM Instruments

MOM has a color camera to image the Martian surface. It also has a thermal infrared imaging spectrometer, which can be used to map the temperature and composition of the surface materials. There's also a methane sensor, which would help scientists determine the origins of recently measured methane plumes on the planet.

Two of the instruments onboard MOM will study the atmosphere and climate. One is the Mars Enospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer and the other is a Lyman Alpha Photometer. Interestingly, the MAVEN mission is devoted almost solely to atmospheric studies, so data from these two different spacecraft will give scientists a lot of new data about the thin envelope surrounding the Red Planet. 

Let's take a look at five of MOM's best images!

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MOM's View of Mars as it Approached the Planet

Mars
Mars as seen by the MOM spacecraft. ISRO

This "full body" image of Mars — a planet that may have been wet in the past but is a dry, dusty desert today — is seen in an image snapped by the Colour Camera onboard MOM. It shows many craters, basins, and light and dark features on the surface. In the upper right part of the image, you can see a dust storm raging in the lower part of the atmosphere. Mars experiences dust storms fairly frequently, and they last for a few days. Occasionally a dust storm will rage around the entire planet, transporting dust and sand across the surface. The dust contributes to the sometimes hazy-looking appearance of some images taken from the surface by landers. 

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Mars and its Small Moon Phobos

Mars moon Phobos
A silhouetted view of the moon Phobos against the Martian surface and atmosphere. ISRO

MOM's Colour Camera caught a glimpse of the moon Phobos high above the Martian surface. Phobos is the larger of Mars's two moons; the other one is called Deimos. Their names are the Latin words for "fear" (Phobos) and "panic" (Deimos). Phobos has a number of impact craters due to collisions in the past, and a very large one called Stickney. No one is quite sure how or where Phobos and Deimos formed. It's still quite a mystery. They are more like asteroids, which leads to the suggestion that they were captured by Mars's gravity. It's also very possible that Phobos formed in orbit around Mars from material left over from the formation of the solar system. 

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MOM Sees a Volcano on Mars

volcano on Mars
Tyrrhenus Mons on Mars. ISRO

The Mars Colour Camera onboard MOM caught this top-down image of one of Mars's rare volcanic mountains. Yes, Mars was a volcanic world at one time. This one is called Tyrrhenus Mons, and it lies in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet. This is one of the oldest volcanoes on Mars, with gullies and sunken pits. Unlike volcanoes on Earth, which sometimes tower kilometers above their surroundings, Tyrrhenus Mons is only about 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile) high. The last time it erupted was some 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, and it spread lava for hundreds of kilometers around. 

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Wind Streaks on Mars

wind streaks on Mars
Wind streaks on Mars near Kinkora Crater. ISRO

Just as winds sculpt the landscapes on Earth, windstorms also change the surface appearance on Mars. The Mars Colour Camera caught this view of a field of craters in a region near a large crater called Kinkora (center right) in Mars's southern hemisphere. The action of the wind erodes away the surface, which creates these streaks. As time goes by, the streaks get filled in by windblown dust. 

Water is also caused erosion on Mars, at least in the distant past. When Mars had oceans and lakes, water and soil created sediments at the lake bottoms. Those show up as sandstones on Mars today.

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View of a Martian Canyon

canyon on Mars
A portion of the Valles Marineris on Mars. ISRO

The Valles Marineris (Valley of the Mariners) is the most famous surface feature on Mars. The Mars Colour Camera aboard MOM took this image of just one section which begins at the Noctis Labyrinthus (lower right) and extends through the central set of canyons called Melas Chasma. The Valles Marineris is very likely a rift valley — a canyon formed when the Martian crust cracked in response to volcanic activity to the west of where the canyon is today, and then widened by wind and water erosion.