Mars Surface, Korolev Crater Revealed In First Photo From ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter's Path Around Red Planet

The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled a spectacular photo of the Korolev Crater in the far north of the Red Planet. The breathtaking image is the first one to be captured by ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which settled into its orbit above Mars only a few weeks ago.

The stunning photo was taken on April 15 from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Martian surface and reveals a 25-mile-long (40 km) stretch of the Korolev Crater. The crater's beautiful icy rims are clearly visible in the photo, which made the TGO technical team take pride in the quality of the snapshot.

This first image beamed back to Earth by the TGO was taken with the objective to test the orbiter's Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) camera, disclosed ESA officials.

"We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions," Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team tasked with data calibration, said in a statement.

"It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars," Pommerol added.

Now that CaSSIS has passed the test with flying colors, the camera will commence its true scientific mission starting April 28, reports.

"We are excited to finally be starting collecting data at Mars with this phenomenal spacecraft," said Svedhem.

"The test images we have seen so far certainly set the bar high," he pointed out.

The TGO spacecraft has been hovering over Mars since October 2016, busily sculpting its target-orbit during a yearlong "aerobraking" campaign of repeated dives through the planet's atmosphere.

Launched in March 2016 as part of the ESA-Roscosmos joint ExoMars program, the spacecraft succeeded in reaching its designated science orbit in February 2018 and is now positioned at the required 250-mile altitude to begin its scientific mission.

CaSSIS is expected to become a valuable asset throughout TGO mission and will aid the orbiter in mapping the Martian atmosphere by identifying possible geological sources of methane gas, notes

TGO has already kicked off the process last week, by switching on the two spectrometers found onboard on April 21. The goal of this mission is to scope out the Red Planet's atmosphere in order to establish if anything on Mars — geological or microbial — may be generating methane gas.