Mars and Syrtis Major, NASA history collection
Taking advantage of Mars's closest approach to Earth in eight years, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the space- based observatory's sharpest views yet of the Red Planet. The telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 snapped these images between April 27 and May 6, when Mars was 54 million miles (87 million kilometers) from Earth. From this distance the telescope could see Martian features as small as 12 miles (19 kilometers) wide. The telescope obtained four images, which, together, show the entire planet. Each view depicts the planet as it completes one quarter of its daily rotation. In these views the north polar cap is tilted toward the Earth and is visible prominently at the top of each picture. The images were taken in the middle of the Martian northern summer, when the polar cap had shrunk to its smallest size. During this season the Sun shines continuously on the polar cap. Previous telescopic and spacecraft observations have shown that this summertime "residual" polar cap is composed of water ice, just like Earth's polar caps. These Hubble telescope snapshots reveal that substantial changes in the bright and dark markings on Mars have occurred in the 20 years since the NASA Viking spacecraft missions first mapped the planet. The Martian surface is dynamic and ever changing. Some regions that were dark 20 years ago are now bright red; some areas that were bright red are now dark. Winds move sand and dust from region to region, often in spectacular dust storms. Over long timescales many of the larger bright and dark markings remain stable, but smaller details come and go as they are covered and then uncovered by sand and dust. The dark feature known as Syrtis Major was first seen telescopically by the astronomer Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century. Many small, dark, circular impact craters can be seen in this region, attesting to the Hubble telescope's ability to reveal fine detail on the planet's surface. To the south of Syrtis is a large circular feature called Hellas. Viking and more recently Mars Global Surveyor have revealed that Hellas is a large and deep impact crater. These Hubble telescope pictures show it to be filled with surface frost and water ice clouds. Along the right limb, late afternoon clouds have formed around the volcano Elysium...Image # : PR99-27D
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was believed that there were canals on Mars. These were a network of long straight lines in the equatorial regions from 60° N. to 60° S. Lat. on the planet Mars observed by astronomers using early telescopes. They were first described by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the opposition of 1877, and confirmed by later observers. Schiaparelli called these canali, which was translated into English as "canals". The Irish astronomer Charles E. Burton made sketches of the lines, the American Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in 1894, made the most committed speculations on the subject. Lowell almost single-handedly popularized the notion of the canals as proof that the planet once sustained intelligent life. His drawings of the canals look like Italian Futurist masterworks or the spacey doodles of Joan Miró.
NASA Photo Collection