In June 2003, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Mars Express orbiter to investigate the surface and composition of the Red Planet. For two decades the spacecraft has been circling Mars, beaming a wealth of information for scientists back on Earth.
In celebration of the orbiter's 20th birthday, ESA has released new high-resolution photos of our neighbouring planet, showcasing an unprecedented variation in colour and composition.
The pictures highlight a mix of orange areas and gray-toned sections - the former representing oxidized iron while the latter is attributed to basaltic sands from volcanoes. There are also paler regions that contain clay and sulfate minerals, possibly suggesting the presence of water. Additionally, one of the most prominent features of the new images is the view of Valles Marineris, a system of canyons that cuts across Mars' surface.
When Mars Express was sent into space in 2003, it had a life expectancy of 687 Earth days. Remarkably, the orbiter has survived for two decades, leading to an abundance of research on the planet, especially in regards to identifying signs of past water on Mars and studying the Martian atmosphere.
To further celebrate the 20 year anniversary, the ESA has released its first-ever livestream of the planet - with running commentary on what you can see. Click below...