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ESA's Mars Orbiter TGO Transmits First Data to Earth, 3D Map of Mars a Possibility

Dec 01, 2016 04:00 AM EST

The European Space Agency (ESA) excitedly announced the first testing of its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) launched last Oct. 19. During the testing, the orbiter managed to relay stunning images of the Martian surface that could pave the way in making the most detailed 3D map of Mars.

Last Nov. 29, ESA announced the result of the first TGO testing conducted last Nov. 22. Based on the report it was revealed that the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) aboard TGO took the first and highest resolution images of the surface of the red planet. The first image was taken at about 3300 miles away with a resolution of 60 m/pixel, according to a report.

"This image was taken very close to the morning terminator (at high phase) 44 minutes before closest approach. The signal to noise is better than we expected," an ESA official said in the official report. The signal to noise is better than what we expected. CaSSIS takes different color images simultaneously," the official added.

But the more interesting part is that what the TGO has delivered is only part of the testing phase. ESA is expecting to gain more and better images from the orbiter once it is in full operations. The University of Bern released the images and is hopeful that the negative publicity due to the Schiaparelli lander crash will be overshadowed by the success of the orbiter.

Although the first images were in black and white, the team behind the orbiter is hopeful that some colorful images will be captured in the near future. But that's not all, a 3D map of the red planet may also be possible thanks to the scientific payload of ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter.

"The techniques for producing stereo from this type of data are still being developed but our Italian colleagues from the Astronomical Observatory of Padova (INAF), who are experts in this field, were able to produce the first result in just a couple of days in spite of it being very challenging," Prof. Nicolas Thomas from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern said in a press release. 

"A 3D reconstruction of a region in Noctis Labyrinthus was produced from a stereo pair of images," Thomas added.

ESA TGO's main scientific mission will start by the end of 2017.


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