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In releasing a new set of four captioned images today from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the captions from each also included this paragraph:
Note: HiRISE has not been allowed to acquire off-nadir targeted observations for a couple of months due to MRO spacecraft issues, so many high-priority science objectives are on hold. What can be usefully accomplished in nadir mode is sampling of various terrains. Especially interesting in this observation are bedrock exposures, which provide information about the geologic history of Mars. “Nadir” refers to pointing straight down.
The image restrictions are probably related to either or both the battery and and reaction wheel issues noted in recent status report. What it means is that though they can still take good and revealing images, like the one to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, showing very young lava flows only a few million years old, scientists have less flexibility in what they can photograph.
If you click on the image you can see the full resolution version. The reason scientists think these are young flows is that they are so few craters here. The lava flows are located in the southern lava flows coming off the large volcano Elysium Mons, which sits due west of Mars’ largest volcano, Olympus Mons. These flows are also in the transition zone between Mars’ low flat northern plains and its high rough southern terrain.
When and if the spacecraft can resume full imaging operations is unknown. Based on the status report, it might never do so.