The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been orbiting mars for over a decade now, taking photos with regularity. Each month, the MRO will in turn send back its imagery, giving us a glimpse of what the Red Planet currently looks like.
With its last delivery, the MRO sent 1,035 pictures, due to every 26 months, the geometry of Earth and Mars offer a sweet spot for data return, as revealed by director of the Planetary Image Research Laboratory, Alfred McEwen, when speaking with Popular Science. Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of Earth's sky this year on May 22, so we're able to receive unobstructed communications between Mars and Earth for a few weeks. Subsequently, the direct line of sight between Mars and Earth coincides with Mars' equinox, when the sun shines directly on the planet's equator, projecting light from North Pole to South, thus providing the MRO with its most expansive views of Mars.
These photos could ultimately aid in mapping out potential landing spots for future missions, such as the ExoMars demonstration module in a few months, the InSight lander in two years, and the ExoMars and NASA rovers, which are scheduled to launch in 2020.
In addition, the MRO is monitoring the surface of the Red Planet, paying close attention to steep slope flows, migrating sand dunes, dry ice jets in the polar regions, and new impact events, says McEwen.
Scan through the coinciding imagery above to see just what Mars has been looking like in recent weeks, and head on over to HiRISE to check out the full collection of photos.
Earlier this year NASA also provided us with some stunning Aurora Borealis footage in ultra-high definition (see below).