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Hope Probe marks its first anniversary by celebrating its new observations

Wed 09 Feb 2022    
| 7 min read

DUBAI: The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), the first Arab interplanetary mission, celebrates on 9 February the first anniversary of its successful entry into Mars’ orbit and the gathering of a unique trove of Mars observations by the Hope Probe. One year on, the autonomous spacecraft has achieved historic milestones as part of its mandate to expand our understanding of the Martian planet.

The Hope Probe successfully reached Mars’ orbit at 19:42 on February 9, 2021, completing one of the most complex and intricate stages of its mission, after a 493 million kilometre, 7-month journey through space. The Probe’s arrival marked a historic achievement for the Emirates and the Arab world and has resulted in unique and challenging observations of the Red Planet that have not only confounded our understanding of the Red Planet but added immeasurably to our knowledge of Mars’ complex and fascinating atmospheric dynamics.

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency said: “Tuesday 9 February 2021 has become a historic occasion for the UAE, marking a unique achievement for our young nation. The Hope Probe is an inspiring success story for the youth of the UAE and the Arab world in general and comes as the culmination of a multinational effort to drive the development of our space sector, contribute to our growing space sector and bring new insights into our human understanding of our nearest planetary neighbour – Mars.”

Salem Butti Salem Al Qubaisi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, said that February 9, 2021 marks a defining moment in the history of the national space sector. “The successful arrival of the Probe and the unprecedented scientific data it collects contribute to strengthening the UAE’s position regionally and globally in the space sector,” he said. “In addition, these achievements open up broad prospects for the development and prosperity of the national space sector aimed at boosting its contribution to the UAE’s GDP – as it is one of the most prominent sectors of the future economy based on innovation and knowledge.”

Eng. Omran Sharaf, Director of the Emirates Mars Mission (Hope Probe), said that the celebration of the first anniversary of the spacecraft’s successful arrival is the culmination of years of tireless and dedicated work by the Emirati project team together with our knowledge partners at the University of Boulder, Colorado. It reflects the UAE’s significant contribution to the scientific progress of humanity, as it provides unprecedented data about the Red Planet.

He said the Probe has registered numerous scientific achievements by observing previously-unknown phenomena. It will continue its scientific mission, which aims to provide the first comprehensive picture of the Red Planet’s climate and atmosphere, benefiting from its unique 25-degree elliptical orbit, which enables it to collect data and high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere every 225 hours, or 9.5 days.

170 rotations around Mars

Since its arrival, Hope Probe has circled the Red Planet over 170 times, at a rate of one cycle every 55 hours. So far, the data captured by Hope Probe has been made available in two tranches, with a commitment to continue publishing and making new batches available every three months.

The first two batches of scientific data were published in October and January respectively. The first batch, included scientific data gathered during 9 February to 22 May and totaled 110 GB. Almost 2 terabytes (TB) of data has been downloaded from the Emirates Mars Mission Science Data Centre, including 1.5TB in the form of data from the Emirates Exploration Imager (EXI) camera .

The Hope Probe carries three instruments on board: the EXI camera system captures high-resolution digital colour images of the planet and enables the measurement of ice and ozone in the lower atmosphere; The Emirates Infra-red Spectrometer (EMIRS) measures the temperature and distribution of dust, water vapour and ice clouds in the lower atmosphere; and the Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) measures oxygen and carbon monoxide in the thermal layer, and hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere.

The second tranche of data released included 76.5GB of unadjusted data from 23 May to 31 August, 2021. The volume of scientific data that has been shared with the global scientific community totals 312 GB, while the total size of downloaded files totals 6.1 TB.

As for the scientific data that the EXI camera was able to capture, the collected data (level 0) amounted to about 16.0 GB, in addition to 21,495 first-level RAW images (39 GB in size), as well as 14,528 second-level modified images (273 GB in size).

EMIRS has collected over 3,275 L1a outputs, and 3,252 L2b outputs, while the size of the downloaded data was 7.2 GB.

The EMUS instrument has gathered some 2,280 of L1 outputs, 1,907 L2a outputs, and 1,435 L2b outputs, while the size of the downloaded data was 2.9 GB.

Unprecedented scientific observations

The Hope Probe has made a number of key new observations of Martian atmospheric phenomena, including the elusive discrete aurora on Mars’ nightside, remarkable concentrations of oxygen and carbon monoxide and never-before-seen images of Martian dust storms as they billow across the planetary surface.

Cloudy day on Mars The Probe captured an image on March 16, 2021, of particular interest to the scientific community. At the time, the spacecraft was orbiting approximately 1,366km above Mars. The image scale at the centre is about 148 m/pixel (note 50 km scale bar) and it covered the heavily cratered region known as “Arabia Terra” (image centre is at 0.8 N latitude, 43.8 E longitude, and North is toward the top).

The western (left) half of this scene shows a dramatic occurrence of Martian water-ice clouds. Similar to cirrus clouds on Earth, these clouds form when water vapour in the Martian atmosphere freezes into tiny ice particles. The complex structure of these clouds is largely due to interactions between winds and the surface.

For example, the parallel bands of clouds result from atmospheric waves induced by winds flowing over obstacles such as crater rims and surface ridges. During this season on Mars (early spring in the northern hemisphere), these types of clouds are often observed in the late afternoon (the local time of day when this image was captured was about 17:00).

The image was taken through EXI’s blue filter (437 nanometers); using this filter, clouds appear quite bright against the darker Martian surface. The image is a lightly processed raw version where artefacts introduced by the camera system have not been removed. In this case, the contrast of the image has been adjusted to enhance the visibility of the clouds.

Foggy craters

On March 15, 2021, the EXI camera captured multispectral images of this oblique view of the heavily cratered region known as Arabia Terra. At the time, the Hope Probe was approximately 3500 km above the surface of Mars, with the image centre being at about 25 N latitude, 48 E longitude. North is toward the top-right. The image was taken in early spring in Mars’ northern hemisphere.

Multispectral images (obtained at multiple wavelengths) are very useful when investigating details of the surface and atmosphere of Mars. Longer wavelengths (red images) enhance the appearance of bright and dark surface markings while shorter wavelengths (blue and violet images) enhance atmospheric features (clouds, fogs, and hazes).

The image presented is a false-colour composite; an EXI 320 nanometer (ultraviolet) image is used to reveal the extent of water-ice clouds and hazes, while an EXI 673 nanometer (red) image portrays surface features such as craters, dust-covered plains, and dark sand deposits. A colour composite where the contrast of the ultraviolet image has been emphasized can further help interpret the relationships between surface and atmospheric features.

In this scene toward the upper-left, one sees bluish early-morning water-ice clouds and hazes above the surface. These form during the night, when water vapour in the Martian atmosphere freezes into tiny ice crystals due to low atmospheric temperatures. Ground fogs can collect in topographic depressions, as can be seen in many of the craters in this view. Within a few hours after sunrise (moving toward the lower right in the image), the ice particles typically sublimate as the atmosphere warms and the clouds and fogs dissipate. Conditions favourable to the formation of nighttime and early-morning water-ice clouds such as these can persist over several months during the late-winter through spring seasons of Mars’ northern hemisphere.

Images of the fully illuminated hemisphere

On 15 September 2021 the EXI camera system onboard the EMM mission obtained a set of multispectral images of the fully illuminated hemisphere of Mars. At the time the images were taken, the Hope spacecraft was orbiting at an altitude of about 19,900 kilometers above the surface. This view is centered at 4.0 N latitude, 66.8 E longitude, with North toward the top of the image.

The season was early winter in the southern hemisphere. The color composite presented here was assembled from images taken through EXI’s blue, green, and red filters (centered at 437, 546, and 635 nanometers). These images have been “calibrated” to remove several types of artifacts introduced by the camera system, and the contrast has been adjusted to enhance the visibility of surface and atmospheric features.

The prominent dark “shark’s fin” at the center of this view is known as Syrtis Major. In 1659, the renowned Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens included this dark marking in a sketch of his view of Mars through his early telescope – making this the first feature to be documented on the surface of another planet. Huygens also used repeated observations of Syrtis Major to estimate the length of the Martian day (about 24 hours).

Over the following centuries, astronomers noted dramatic changes in the size, shape and “darkness” of this feature, and it was believed by some to be related to seasonal changes in vegetation growing in and near a shallow sea. Beginning in the early 1970s, spacecraft observations revealed Syrtis Major to result from dark sand deposits covering the gentle slopes of a massive volcanic plain. The noted variability over the Martian year is caused by winds moving fine, bright dust and coarser, dark volcanic sand across the region.

The bright feature to the south of Syrtis Major is known as Hellas Planitia. Caused by the collision of a large asteroid with Mars about four billion years ago, and measuring about 2,300km across and up to 7 km deep, Hellas is among the largest impact basins in the Solar System. The interior of Hellas is often obscured by water-ice clouds. In southern winter, deposits of water ice and frost can also mantle the basin’s surface. In this view, a dust storm (the tan clouds) is swirling over northwestern Hellas.

Huge dust storms

On January 5, 2022, the EXI camera system onboard the EMM mission obtained the half-illuminated view of Mars the sun was just setting near the centre of the disk. When the images were taken, the Hope spacecraft was at an altitude of about 40,500 kilometres above the surface. This view is centred at 12.3 S latitude, 94.8 E longitude, with North toward the top of the image.

The season was mid-winter in the southern hemisphere (Ls = 153 ). This colour composite was assembled from images taken through EXI’s blue, green, and red filters (centred at 437, 546, and 635 nanometers). These images are “quick look” products that retain some artefacts of the camera system, and the contrast has been adjusted to enhance the visibility of the surface and atmospheric features.

The instruments onboard the probe detected a number of dust storms in this region of Mars at the time. The dark ‘shark fin’ shaped region to the left of the centre is a volcanic region known as Syrtis Major, as a massive dust storm (about 2,500 km in diameter) approaches from the east (green arrows) and partially obscures Syrtis. To the south, the Hellas impact crater (the largest crater on Mars – about 2,300 km in diameter) is completely surrounded by dust clouds (blue arrows).

The Hope Probe is scheduled to continue its scientific mission to explore Mars until the middle of 2023, with the possibility of extending it for an additional Martian year (two Earth years).


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