NASA released some stunning new images of Pluto today, but New Horizons is far from the only spacecraft that's currently sending back incredible photos of our Solar System. Mars Express, a spacecraft that was launched by the European Space Agency in 2003, has been taking gorgeous images of the Red Planet for years. But a new one released today is one of the most impressive views of Mars yet.
The epic panorama image stretches from the edge of Mars to the planet's south pole, which is covered in an ice cap made from frozen water and carbon dioxide. It was taken by Mars Express' high-resolution stereo camera on February 25th, which is technically summer on Mars. The southern ice cap recedes during this season (but doesn't fully disappear like the north pole, which nearly does). During a Martian winter, the southern polar cap can grow to about 350 kilometers across.
Mars' south pole is made of frozen water and carbon dioxide
While this particular camera on Mars Express normally points straight down at the surface of Mars from a distance of about 300 kilometers, the images that make up this mosaic were taken while the spacecraft was in a high orbit of almost 10,000 kilometers. That let the Mars Express team get a much wider view of the planet while it calibrated its instruments.
Mars Express' mission has been extended a whopping six times already, and the latest one pushed the spacecraft's life to the end of 2016, so expect to see much more from this little orbiter. Until then, scroll down and stare deeply at a beautiful Martian summer.