Fifty Years of Mars Imaging: from Mariner 4 to HiRISE
Fifty Years of Mars Imaging: from Mariner 4 to HiRISE
ESP_052438_1560  Science Theme: Rocks and Regolith
Mars has captured the imagination of astronomers for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the last half a century that we were able to capture images of its surface in detail. This particular site on Mars was first imaged in 1965 by the Mariner 4 spacecraft during the first successful fly-by mission to Mars.

From an altitude of around 10,000 kilometers, this image (the ninth frame taken) achieved a resolution of approximately 1.25 kilometers per pixel. Since then, this location has been observed by six other visible cameras producing images with varying resolutions and sizes. This includes HiRISE (highlighted in yellow), which is the highest-resolution and has the smallest “footprint.” This compilation, spanning Mariner 4 to HiRISE, shows each image at full-resolution. Beginning with Viking 1 and ending with our HiRISE image, this animation documents the historic imaging of a particular site on another world.

In 1976, the Viking 1 orbiter began imaging Mars in unprecedented detail, and by 1980 had successfully mosaicked the planet at approximately 230 meters per pixel. In 1999, the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor (1996) also imaged this site with its Wide Angle lens, at around 236 meters per pixel. This was followed by the Thermal Emission Imaging System on Mars Odyssey (2001), which also provided a visible camera producing the image we see here at 17 meters per pixel. Later in 2012, the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on the Mars Express orbiter (2003) captured this image of the surface at 25 meters per pixel. In 2010, the Context Camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005) imaged this site at about 5 meters per pixel.

Finally, in 2017, HiRISE acquired the highest resolution image of this location to date at 50 centimeters per pixel. When seen at this unprecedented scale, we can discern a crater floor strewn with small rocky deposits, boulders several meters across, and wind-blown deposits in the floors of small craters and depressions. This compilation of Mars images spanning over 50 years gives us a visual appreciation of the evolution of orbital Mars imaging over a single site.

Written by: Eric Pilles, Livio Tornabene, Radu Capitan, and Matt Bourassa  (20 November 2017)
Acquisition date
03 October 2017

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
256.5 km (159.4 miles)

Original image scale range
52.2 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~156 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
50 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
65°, with the Sun about 25° above the horizon

Solar longitude
69.2°, Northern Spring

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  50.3°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
map projected

RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (167MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (104MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (85MB)
non-map           (83MB)

IRB color
map projected  (35MB)
non-map           (100MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (163MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (149MB)

RGB color
non map           (92MB)

B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.