Marsorbiter celebrates 25,000th(!) orbit around the red planet with a fantastic photo

The Mars Express probe arrived at Mars at the end of 2003 and has been circling the red planet for almost 21 years. And in that time he has completed 25,000 laps around Mars. A huge milestone that the probe celebrates by delivering an amazing photo of Mars.

The photo shows a large part of the Martian surface, showing some of the most famous volcanoes on the red planet. This is how we see Olympus Mons; not only the largest volcano on Mars, but also the largest in our solar system! The volcano is almost 22 kilometers high and, with an area of ​​300,000 square kilometers, is seven times larger than our own Netherlands.

Big volcanoes
However, in addition to Olympus Mons, more volcanoes can be seen in the photo. Ascraeus Mons, for example. With a height of 18 kilometers, it can also be counted among the larger volcanoes of Mars. The volcanoes Arsia Mons – just slightly higher than our Mount Everest – and Pavonis Mons – about 14 kilometers high – can also be seen in the photo.

Gorge system
Among this trio of volcanoes we find Noctis Labyrinthus; a gorge system, with valleys up to 30 kilometers wide and up to 6 kilometers deep. The gorge system is approximately 1,190 kilometers long; comparable to 3.5 times the distance between Groningen and Maastricht.

What stands out below are the blue tones on an otherwise sand-colored picture. They are caused by clouds. At the very bottom are wave updrafts (Lee wave clouds) to see. They are caused by air being forced over an obstacle – for example a mountain.

Image: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin.

If you look closely, you will see that not only Mars has been immortalized by Mars Express; Moon Phobos can also be seen in the photo. And diagonally below Arsia Mons. Phobos is quite close to Mars; the distance between the two celestial bodies is only 6000 kilometers. For comparison, our moon orbits the Earth at a distance of about 385,000 kilometers.

A lot of work done
Met the great photo ESA is celebrating the 25,000th round of Mars Express around Mars. The space probe completed that 25,000 orbit in October 2023. But only now is the European Space Agency taking a closer look at it. Not only with this photo, but also by looking back at what Mars Express has taught us about the red planet while orbiting Mars. For example, the probe mapped the atmosphere of Mars and provided more insight into how the water on the red planet deteriorated over time. The probe also studied Mars’ two moons – Phobos and Deimos – in unprecedented detail and captured these amazing photos of Mars.

And if it is up to ESA, the old orbiter will continue to do so for a while. In 2023, the Mars Express mission was extended – for the umpteenth time. It was then agreed to have Mars Express orbit Mars until at least 2026. The information that the space probe continues to collect is considered very valuable. Not just because we learn even more about Mars. But also because the information may be important for upcoming Mars missions. For example, the European Space Agency hopes to send a rover to Mars sometime in the coming years to look for traces of (decayed) Martian life. And NASA wants to pick up material collected on Mars by Mars rover Perseverance and bring it to Earth. And the more we learn about the red planet – for example via Mars orbiters such as Mars Express – the greater the chance of success of such ambitious missions.