Image: Mars Express picture
ESA - DLR - FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
This picture, snapped by the High Resolution Stereo Camera onboard ESA's Mars Express orbiter, shows an area of the Valles Marineris canyon system from an altitude of 171 miles (275 kilometers).
By Space News Staff Writer
updated 1/19/2004 5:18:57 PM ET 2004-01-19T22:18:57

Europe's Mars Express satellite has produced a color 3-D image of the Red Planet's surface, a rugged area near the planet's equator known as the Grand Canyon of Mars, or Valles Marineris.

The image, released by the European Space Agency on Monday, shows a landscape that appears to resemble Earth's Grand Canyon, with deep valleys gouged out of the surface rock by water that scientists now suspect may have migrated beneath Mars' surface and remains in the form of ice.

The European Space Agency described the first pictures, shot at a resolution of 39 feet (12 meters) per pixel, as "very promising."

The image, it said, shows "a landscape which has been predominantly shaped by the erosional action of water," with surface features including mountain ranges, valleys and mesas

The picture was taken Jan. 14 by Mars Express' High Resolution Stereo Camera. It shows an area 1,057 miles (1,700 kilometers) long and about 41 miles (65 kilometers) wide that was captured by the stereo camera as the satellite flew at an altitude of 171 miles (275 kilometers).

The stereo camera is one of seven observing instruments on Mars Express. The satellite's radar imager, to be activated in April, is designed to penetrate several miles beneath the surface of the planet to hunt for water sources.

Mars Express is set to orbit the planet for at least one Martian year — almost two Earth years.

The orbiter carries two-thirds of the European Mars mission's experiments, among them instruments that will search for ultraviolet atmosphere.

Carrying its companion Beagle 2 lander, Mars Express was launched last June from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The lander, released toward the surface by the orbiter Dec. 19, hasn't been heard from since its own scheduled landing on Christmas Day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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