Mars Pathfinder Landing Site
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Mars Pathfinder Landing Site

January 12, 2007

NASA's Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, and continued operating until Sept. 27 of that year. The landing site is on an ancient flood plain of the Ares and Tiu outflow channels. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took an image on Dec. 21, 2006, that provides unprecedented detail of the geology of the region and hardware on the surface.

This image shows the Pathfinder lander on the surface. Zooming in, one can discern the ramps, science deck, and portions of the airbags on the Pathfinder lander. (See next image for closer view.) The back shell and parachute are to the south, and four features that may be portions of the heat shield are identified. Two of these were visible from Pathfinder. At the time of that mission, the nearest object was provisionally identified as the back shell.

However, analysis of the HiRISE image and reinterpretation of Pathfinder images, plus an improved understanding of how hardware looks on the Martian surface based on ground-level and orbital images of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites, indicate that the glint is bright enough that it may be insulating material from inside the heat shield. The back shell and parachute were out of sight behind a ridge from Pathfinder's ground view. One of the three bright features, identified as heat shield debris, was also identified during the Pathfinder mission.

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