Mars is seen in a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), revealing stunning detail around the rusty planet. Surface features as small as 20 to 30 miles across are seen in the photograph, recorded from a distance of 50 million miles.
The Opportunity rover, still exploring the surface of Mars, is located in the hemisphere of the Red Planet recorded in the new image. That half of the planet also contains the landing sites of Pathfinder, which touched down in 1997, as well as Viking 1 from 1976. The landing sites of Spirit and Curiosity rovers are not captured in this image.
"An extended blanket of clouds can be seen over the southern polar cap. The icy northern polar cap has receded to a comparatively small size because it is now late summer in the northern hemisphere. Hubble photographed a wispy, afternoon, lateral cloud extending for at least 1,000 miles at mid-northern latitudes," Hubble astronomers wrote on the project website.
Syrtis Major Planitia, an inactive shield volcano, is seen on the right side of the photograph. This dark region was one of the first features identified by astronomers on the surface of Mars during the seventeenth century. The marking was used to determine the rotational rate of the Red Planet, around 37 minutes longer than a day here on Earth.
The Hellas Planitia basin, sitting south of Syrtis, was formed long ago during the collision of a large body with Mars 3.5 billion years ago. The distinctive feature spreads approximately 1,100 miles from one side to the other.
Running along the equator, Sinus Meridiani and Sinus Sabaeus are dark ribbons composed from fine-grained sand together with dark bedrock. This combination makes these regions significantly less reflective than much of the surface of the Red Planet.
Arabia Terra, sitting north of these dark strips, may be one of the oldest regions on the surface of Mars. This distinctly orange area is heavily cratered and has been exposed to extreme levels of erosion.
The photograph was exposed on May 12, 2016, as the two planets were near to their closest approach.