The UAE released the first close-up image of Mars captured by the Hope probe, a week after the country’s space agency became only the fifth worldwide to reach the Red Planet.
The photo was taken 24,700 kilometres above the surface of Mars and was shot by the spacecraft’s on-board camera.
Last Tuesday, Hope entered orbit to begin a two-year journey to collect scientific data on the planet, which is said to have once supported life.
Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, shared the image on his Twitter account.
“The first picture of Mars captured by the first-ever Arab probe in history, 25,000 km above the Red Planet’s surface,” he said.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, also shared the image, describing its transmission as "a defining moment in our history".
He said it "marks the UAE joining advanced nations involved in space exploration. We hope this mission will lead to new discoveries about Mars which will benefit humanity."
It is the first photo of Mars captured by the spacecraft while in orbit.
On July 22, 2020 – two days after its launch into space – Hope released an image of the planet captured by its star tracker, a low-resolution navigational camera.
The second photo, which the spacecraft shot while 135 million kilometres away from Mars, was published on December 3.
On December 7, a third picture was released to celebrate Hope having travelled more than 100 million kilometres, past Saturn and Jupiter.
The spacecraft was built by engineers at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, in collaboration with three US universities.
A Japanese rocket carried Hope to space in July 20 last year, followed by a solo journey of 493.5 million kilometres to Mars.
Congratulations from world leaders and other space agencies poured in after Hope entered the planet’s orbit.
Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Mohamed each personally thanked the MBRSC staff moments after the feat.
“I congratulate the people of the UAE for having you,” Sheikh Mohamed said to the team at mission control.
“I congratulate the Arab community for having you. What you have accomplished is an honour for you, your families and country. I want to congratulate the Rulers of the UAE, loyal people of the UAE, whose happiness today is indescribable. And you are the reason, after God’s blessings.
“We must not forget the picture of Sheikh Zayed and this historic moment reminds us of him today. That is how life is – one generation hands over to another. He started with this goal, and you have achieved it today. We thank you for all the effort and high standards.”
The spacecraft will stay in a transfer orbit for the next two months, during which mission control will test and calibrate its subsystems and instruments.
It will then move on to the science orbit, where it will remain for two Earth years – possibly four years if the mission is extended – to capture data on the planet’s upper and lower atmosphere and weather.
The spacecraft’s strategic placement in orbit will offer scientists a unique view of the planet.
It is placed at an elliptical orbit between 22,000km and 44,000km, enabling it to capture Mars’ weather and atmospheric conditions throughout the day.
Orbital positioning of previous Mars missions limited spacecrafts to only certain times.
Hope was one of the first three missions to arrive on Mars this month. It was followed by China's Tianwen-1, and Nasa's Perseverance rover is expected to arrive on Thursday.
Tianwen-1 beamed back an image of Mars a few days before entering orbit on February 10, less than 24 hours after the Hope probe.
Its camera also captured video footage of its orbit entry attempt.
What did Hope probe capture in the Mars image?
The spacecraft has taken a photo of the solar system’s largest volcano, Olympus Mons, at sunrise.
It was captured by Hope’s Emirates eXploration imager at 12.36am on February 10 – hours after it entered orbit. The imager is one of three instruments aboard the spacecraft.
The photo was taken from an altitude of 24,700 km above the Martian surface.
The colour of the image has been created from a mix of red, green and blue images taken by the imager.
The North pole of Mars can be seen in the upper left of the image.
Ice clouds can be seen over the southern highlands (in the lower right of the image) and the Alba Mona volcano (in the upper left).
Clouds are seen at the top of the image and middle right.
These clouds, which can be seen in different geographic regions and different times of the day, will help the Hope probe study the atmosphere.