ESA releases time-lapse video from orbiting Mars Express

Mission controllers for the Mars Express have created a video showing the view as the spaceship orbits Mars.

Last month, the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) was instructed to acquire an image of Mars every minute during one complete, seven-hour orbit.

It sounds like something of an afterthought – the VMC is a low-resolution, rather ordinary digital camera originally used only to confirm separation of the Mars Express lander in 2003.

The resulting images have been combined to create the first such video – here – ever generated from a spacecraft orbiting Mars, as it loops between its greatest height above the surface, 10 527km, to its lowest, at just 358km, and back again.


The giant volcanoes of Mars show up clearly at the start of the video, a series of dark spots on the desert surface. Next comes a glimpse of the icy South Pole before the spacecraft travels into the planet’s night side. As daylight returns, we see the spiral ice patterns of the North Pole.

Near the beginning and end of the video, as Mars Express slows down during the highest arc of its orbit, Mars can be seen rotating on its axis. At the very end, Phobos can be seen as a dark circle moving from top to bottom in the movie.


The images used to generate the video, 600 in total, were acquired  on 27 May between 02:00 and 09:00 UTC. They were transmitted to Earth a few hours later via ESA’s 35m New Norcia deep space antenna in Australia.