A Swiss-made camera and telescope mounted on the European Space Agency ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which departed Earth in March, has taken its first picture of the Red Planet.
Since the orbiter is still 41 million kilometres (25.5 million miles) away from Mars, the image itself is not as clear as the high-resolution, 3D colour shots that researchers expect to get when the device enters the planet’s orbit in October.
However, the image represents a key milestone in the journey of the orbiter and the camera, known as CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System), which was built by an international consortium of researchers led by the University of Bern.
"The images confirm the sensitivity of the instrument," said CaSSIS project team member Antoine Pommerol of the University of Bern Center for Space and Habitability in a statement on Thursday. "CaSSIS is well focused and the signal is as expected.”
"Telescopes on Earth and the Hubble space telescope can deliver much sharper images than us at the moment," said CaSSIS project lead Nicolas Thomas. "But we are still very far away from Mars."
When it reaches ideal photo-taking range – about 400 km – in the second week of October, CaSSIS will take a picture of the Martian surface, and then rotate its camera 180 degrees to take a second image.
This dual-image system will capture stereoscopic, or 3D pictures in a manner similar to human eyes. Ultimately, the images will be taken at an unprecedentedly high resolution of 5 metres per pixel.
Thomas said that until October, the CaSSIS team will continue to evaluate data collected on the go. "Everything we do now will help us to better understand the instrument, and to calibrate it. It’s a lot to do,” he said.
swissinfo.ch and agencies