Best Use of a Camera on Mars (2012)

Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) at Mars Space Flight Facility

Researchers at ASU helped throw the Mars Odyssey orbiter into space way back in 2001. One of the major pieces of equipment they are responsible for was the THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System). The THEMIS is much more than a super-expensive digital camera. It's a super-expensive digital camera that can take pictures of the infrared spectrum.

Looking into the infrared means that the Mars Odyssey probe is able to see things from orbit that a regular camera could not. It can spot things like the residual heat from deep geothermal systems or compare types of rocks just by how they retain or reflect heat from the sun. Superficially, this just means it sends back a bunch of black-and-white photos, but its real value becomes clear when you try to do something a little crazy. Like land a nuclear-powered Cooper Mini on the surface of Mars using a rocket skycrane. Before the Curiosity Mars rover even neared the Red Planet, THEMIS sat in high orbit scoping out landing sites for the probe. From those pictures, scientists were able to help pick out an ideal landing site along the Gale Crater for the rover. The data they collected allowed them to look even more closely at the surface, picking a spot that appeared to be free of massive rocks. And, given the success of Curiosity, it looks like THEMIS chose well.


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >