- Dunes dubbed Kolhar. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
It has now been nearly a decade since the HiRISE camera arrived in orbit around Mars and began taking high-resolution images of the Red Planet. Tucked aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, HiRISE has a telescope aperture of 0.5 meter, making it the most powerful camera ever sent into deep space, with a maximum resolution of about 0.3 meter/pixel. This has allowed NASA to spy on its Curiosity and Opportunity rovers from space.
The camera was sent to Mars to help scientists identify regions of the Red Planet that would be good candidates for sample return missions (which NASA hopes to fly sometime in the 2020s), as well as possible landing sites for humans on Mars (no earlier than the late 2030s, for NASA). The instrument has also allowed scientists to characterize the surface of Mars and better understand its evolution over billions of years. Finally, the high-resolution images also helped dispel pareidolia such as the "face on Mars."
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has now completed about 50,000 orbits around Mars, taken nearly 250,000 images, and returned nearly 300 terabits of data about the planet to Earth. It has survived well past its original 5.5-year mission, which was supposed to end in late 2010.