NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)


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    • Recently, Scientists from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released the first pieces of the multispectral maps made by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM)

    About NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

    • Launch: It was launched in 2005 and reached Mars in 2006.
    • NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been mapping minerals on the red planet for the last 16 years with the help of CRISM.
      • CRISM is a visible-infrared spectrometer whose primary goal is to look for mineralogical evidence for past water on the surface and subsurface of Mars.
    • Aim: To search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for long periods of time.
      • These studies are identifying deposits of minerals that may have formed in water over long periods of time, looking for evidence of shorelines of ancient seas and lakes, and analysing deposits placed in layers over time by flowing water.
    • Access: Anyone can access these maps from NASA’s ‘Planetary Data System website’.
      • It has managed to map 86 percent of Mars’ surface with its multispectral mode, detecting nearly all of the minerals on the surface.
    • Hyper spectral mode: The coverage goal for the multispectral mode was 80 percent owing to the limited lifetime of the coolers needed by its infrared detector. But it has managed to exceed that goal.
      • The hyper spectral mode, which uses the wavelengths from the visible and near-infrared (VNIR) detector, doesn’t require cryogenic cooling and has attained more than 99 percent coverage. 

    Mission objectives

    • One of the mission’s main goals is to map the Martian landscape with high-resolution cameras in order to choose other landing sites for future missions.
    • These include the Phoenix Lander, which will explore the Martian Arctic, and the Mars Science Laboratory, a highly manoeuvrable rover.
    • MRO will help planners evaluate both the scientific value and the landing risks for possible landing sites for these missions.
    • Characterise the present climate of Mars and how the climate changes from season-to-season and year-to-year.
    • Investigate complex terrain on Mars and identify water-related landforms.
    • Probe beneath the surface for evidence of subsurface layering, water and ice, and profile the internal structure of the polar ice caps.
    • Identify and characterize sites with the highest potential for future missions that will land on Mars’ surface, including possible missions to collect samples for returning to Earth.
    • Relay scientific information to Earth from Mars surface missions.

    Significance of the mission

    • Data for future missions: The data gathered by CRISM over the last 16 years is invaluable for numerous research avenues and missions to the Martian surface.
      • For example, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which saw the Perseverance rover land on the surface of Mars, heavily relied on data gathered by CRISM.
    • NASA used a community-based process in which anyone could propose a landing site for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).
    • Research: Readily available and accessible data will help planetary scientists, geologists, and meteorologists conduct research. It will also increase the prospects of humanity understanding the universe more easily.
    • Selecting sites: Cutting-edge analyses of CRISM data is used to select sites within the crater for collecting the rock samples.  

    Nadir Point

    • Nadir is a term used in astronomy for the point in the heavens exactly opposite to the zenith, the zenith and nadir being the two poles of the horizon. That is, the zenith is directly overhead, the nadir directly underfoot.

    Source: DTE