Mars Global Surveyor was presented with a unique opportunity February 13-18, 1998, to image sunlight glinting off of the surface and atmospheric haze of Mars. Orbits 130-137 were devoted to obtaining MOC images of this effect, also known as opposition surge. During each orbit in mid-February, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft passed close to and through the line between the Sun and the center of Mars. In other words, the phase angle (angle between the Sun's incident light and the direction from the surface to the spacecraft) was near zero degrees. The sunlight reflecting from Mars near the zero phase angle produces the rare sun-glint phenomenon. The size and brightness of the glint depends on the physical properties of the surface (dust, sand, and rock distribution) and the atmosphere (haze/suspended dust). Studies of these images are expected to yield important information that can be compared with thermal emission observations.
The picture is a color composite of MOC images 13601 (red wide angle) and 13602 (blue wide angle). The green-color band is synthesized from the red and blue using a relationship well-understood from Viking images of the late 1970s. The large, dark region near the top-center of the picture is Sinus Meridiani. The circular feature at the upper right is the impact basin, Schiaparelli. The opposition surge feature --the sun glint-- is centered around 21.0°S latitude, 4.1°W longitude.
The two images were taken on Mars Global Surveyor's 136th orbit on February 18, 1998. Orbit 136 was the second-to-last orbit on which MOC obtained images of Mars during the first aerobraking phase (AB-1) of the mission. MOC was off between the end of AB-1 on February 19, 1998, until the start of Science Phasing Orbit-1 phase (SPO-1), which began March 28 and ended April 28, 1998.
Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.