Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

July 22, 1996

Utopia on Mars
Credit: The Viking Project, M. Dale-Bannister WU StL, NASA

Explanation: The Viking 2 spacecraft was launched on the Road to Utopia in September of 1975 (30 years after Bing, Dotty, and Bob). In August of 1976, after making the second successful Martian landing, Viking 2's lander began recording data used to produce this exquisitely detailed image of the Martian surface in the area of Utopia Planitia (the Plain of Utopia). Visible at the lower right are the protective shroud that covered the lander's soil collector head, ejected after the descent, along with one of the lander's dust covered footpads. Seen near the centre are shallow trenches dug by the sampler arm. Mars looks red because its surface is covered with reddish iron oxide dust (rust). This dust, suspended in the thin carbon dioxide atmosphere, also filters the sunlight causing surface views to take on a reddish tinge. The Vikings made the first successful landings on Mars 20 years ago. What does Mars look like today?

Tomorrow's picture: Hale-Bopp, Jupiter, and the MilkyWay

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.