India releases blurry image of giant Mars craters taken by orbiting satellite
Mars is pictured in this photo taken by India's Martian Orbiter Mission. Sept. 25, 2014. (India Space Research Organisation / Twitter)
Katy Daigle, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, September 25, 2014 7:46AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 25, 2014 10:44AM EDT
NEW DELHI -- India's space agency released the first image of the crater-scarred and dry surface of Mars taken by the nation's first interplanetary spacecraft after it began orbiting the red planet.
The image released Thursday was taken when the Martian Orbiter Mission, or MOM, was about 7,300 kilometres from the planet's surface, according to the Indian Space and Research Organisation. The digital data took at least 12 minutes to reach Earth.
The image fills the frame and shows dry land pockmarked by craters, with the smallest discernible detail covering an area about 376 metres wide.
Space agency scientists released the image after bringing it to New Delhi to show to Prime Miniser Narendra Modi, who had spent Wednesday morning witnessing the satellite's last manoeuvrs into orbit from the space agency's Mars command centre in the southern city of Bangalore.
"The view is nice up here," scientists tweeted under a special mission profile, @MarsOrbiter, which has gained more than 99,000 followers since being set up on Tuesday.
Modi responded through his Twitter feed: "Yes, I agree @MarsOrbiter, the view is indeed nice up there!"
The satellite will spend the next six months on an elliptical orbit -- coming as close as 365 kilometres and swinging out to 80,000 kilometres at its farthest -- as it collects scientific data on the Martian atmosphere.
India was enthralled with the mission's success. Indian newspapers on Thursday ran front-page stories and two-page spreads detailing the mission. Museums opened special educational exhibitions. Indian celebrities and politicians commended the rare feat, which only the U.S., former Soviet Union and European Space Agency have succeeded at before.
The U.S. space agency NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, congratulated the Indian scientists in a statement Wednesday.
"It was an impressive engineering feat, and we welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet. We look forward to MOM adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars," the statement said.
NASA on Sunday had its own success in placing its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven, in orbit around the planet. There are two other NASA satellites and one ESA craft also now orbiting Mars, while two NASA rovers are on the surface.