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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Processes of Science: Mars, a Case Study #6023 Spirit Lander and Bonneville Crater in Color


Date: January 29, 2012
Location: Mars
Photographer: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona


The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this view on Jan. 29, 2012, providing the first image from orbit to show Spirit’s lander platform in color. The view covers an area about 2,000 feet (about 600 meters) wide, dominated by Bonneveille Crater. North is up.

A bright spot on the northern edge of Bonneville Crater is a remnant of Spirit’s heat shield. Spirit spent most of its six-year working life in a range of hills about two miles east of its landing site. An image of the lander platform taken by Spirit’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) after the rover had driven off can be found here. The bright heat shield remnant can be seen in a panorama the same camera took of Bonneville Crater.


Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.


There is one large indentation on the upper right and smaller indentations throughout the image.



The darker coloring of the large indentation provides an indication of its depth in relation to the surrounding areas.



There are ridges at the bottom of the crater as well as in other areas of the image.



The indentations, or craters, indicate that something very large hit the surface.



The smaller craters indicate that different sizes of materials hit the surface.

Build on Your Observations

Looking around the image, one can observe distinctly different patterns and textures. The darker walls of the crater have a ripple-like pattern. Some areas on the larger surface appear lighter, and thus smooth. The most predominant texture is granular.

Shadows also provide information about this image. For example, half of the large crater is in shadow, supporting our perception of its depth. Shadows on the smaller indentations also differentiate these areas by depth and height from the surrounding area.

Make Inferences

The title references the Spirit Lander. Launched in 2004, the NASA Spirit Lander was a robotic rover active on Mars between 2004 and 2010. The Lander platform is visible in the bottom left of the photograph. It is the small circular object, whose reddish color is slightly brighter than the surroundings.


The title also references the Bonneville Crater. The Bonneville Crater is what is known as an “impact” crater. Impact craters are created as the result of an interstellar object hitting the surface of the planet.



The caption states the image is “in color.” This is because color was added after the photograph was made. Making images of space requires more than a simple camera. These devices often do not record in color and do not even use film. These special devices record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. The detectors produce images that are in shades of black and white. The later addition of color enhances details of the image.


The ridges in the photo indicate that wind affects the surface of Mars. This also suggests that the surface is made up of materials that are soft or small and can be moved by wind.

Formulate Further Questions

What was Spirit’s mission?

Are there other types of craters?

Are the ripple patterns made by wind or water?

How does NASA use these images for its research?

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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum


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  • ISBN: 1-57680-905-6