Worlds' most distant webcam goes live

By Phil Plait | August 22, 2008 7:00 am

You can use a webcam to sneak peeks at birds’ nests, active volcanoes, watch the Shuttle launch, and even to check traffic. But that’s just local stuff. What if you want more of a far look?

The crescent Mars, as seen by MEVMC

Then you need to check out the most distant webcam (so far) in the solar system: the Mars Express Visual Monitoring Camera (note: the camera page is due to go live at 13:00 UT today, but don’t fret if it takes a little while to go up after the deadline the page is now online!). This camera on board Europe’s Mars Express orbiter has been circling the red planet since 2003. It was used to confirm the Beagle lander’s separation from the main spacecraft, and that completed its main mission. But last year, controllers wondered if the camera could be turned back on to provide some tourist views of Mars, so they began a new campaign to check out the camera. It turned on just fine (after more than three years of sleep!) and they’ve been snapping away with it.

The camera is not a scientific one: in other words, data from it are not easily measurable to the precision needed for scientific analysis, but it does provide spectacular views of Mars, and can be used to monitor weather and other changes on the planet. And the view! The image above shows something we never can see from Earth: a crescent Mars, with the Sun peeking over the limb (you need to have Mars between you and the Sun to see this, and Earth is always closer to the Sun than Mars). There are also animations of Mars rotating, and weather patterns changing. Totally awesome.

And the Mars Express folks want more eyeballs! They made this request:

Open invitation for image feedback:: You can assist the Mars Express team with additional processing of the raw image data files as well as interpretation: What do you see? What part of the Mars surface is being shown? Can you identify any geographical features? What regions of the atmosphere or atmospheric components do you see?

So go to their site and check out Mars. It just might be the most interesting heavenly body you’ll see on a web cam.

And for those of you picky readers who want to complain about this post’s title: note the position of the apostrophe.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Space

Comments (32)

  1. Sir Eccles

    Picture of the “face on Mars” in 3, 2, 1…

  2. Why “Worlds’ “?

    That picture just looks like an eclipse.

  3. Oh wait, I get it now. Never mind.

  4. rob

    BEDEMIR: And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped.
    ARTHUR: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedemir. Explain again how secret soundstages may be employed to fake moon landings and satellite imagery of planets.
    BEDEMIR: Oh, certainly, sir.
    LAUNCELOT: Look, my liege!
    ARTHUR: Mars!
    GALAHAD: Mars!
    LAUNCELOT: Mars!
    PATSY: It’s only a model.

  5. Thanks Phil – I’ve been waiting and hoping for a Mars webcam for years. I can’t wait to see if it lives up to my expectations!

  6. Will. M

    I doubt I could be of help; I have difficulty orienting myself using GoogleEarth. That won’t stop me from checking out the images, though. However, I certainly hope the images will be of better quality than the above. I have the impression that a person would have to be well-versed on the topography of the bright side of this world in order to identify places upon it. As for the other side, perhaps one would have to be a UFO pilot.

  7. Michelle

    That is pretty cool! That’s very nice and very clever of them!!!

    An AWESOME idea to use otherwise useless instruments.

  8. Angel

    “And for those of you picky readers who want to complain about this post’s title: note the position of the apostrophe.”

    You are good, hehe

  9. I’m waiting for the webcam trained on Uranus…

    Seriously, this is cool!

  10. PG

    @Will.M: check out Google Mars for a tutorial on Martian topography! (

  11. Now that there’s a webcam on Mars, how long will it be before we start seeing banners and pop-ups for “Martian Co-eds Live XXX Cam action!!!!!!”

  12. madge

    REALLY cool! Thanks for this Phil. Added it to my favourites so I can keep a daily check on that sucker. Thanks largly to you my favourites list now has folders within folders within foders and is really really LONG! And I love it that way! :)

  13. What’s the latency on that connection? Is there an IP address we can ping? :-)

    I’m sometimes disappointed that I presumably won’t live long enough to find out whether the existing internet protocols are robust enough to handle interstellar networks. What will happen when someone needs to access a web site stored on a server at Epsilon Eridani? Will you have to leave a browser window open for 20 years while it loads?

  14. Martian

    I see dead people……

  15. CanadianLeigh

    Someone is going to have a heck of a yard sale when we finally colonize Mars.

  16. @Canadian Leigh,

    Not to mention when they colonize Uranus…

    OK, no more jokes about Uranus… I’m sure it’s very nice…

    Seriously, why is it that a Uranus joke makes anything sound funny?

  17. CanadianLeigh

    Evergreen shipping lines has a ship named “EverUranus”. I got a phone call from one of our techies that was working on board at Deltaport. He told me he was working deep in the bowels of Uranus.
    When I arrived at the ship I had to ask permission of the watch officer to enter Uranus.
    It just never ends.

  18. Tim Bailey

    That’s awesome. Seriously, though: what’s the refresh-rate? How often should we check the page for a new image? I can’t find that info on the ESA site itself.

  19. fatherdaddy

    While you’re at the site, don’t forget to download the Celestia program and take a tour of the galaxy. It has a bunch objects from our system and the stars beyond. I demand that you all check it out.

  20. I can’t wait until 2620.

    Fry: Hey, as long as you don’t make me smell Uranus. (laughs)
    Leela: I don’t get it.
    Farnsworth: I’m sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.
    Fry: Oh. What’s it called now?
    Farnsworth: Urectum. Here, let me locate it for you.
    Fry: Hehe, no, no, I think I’ll just smell around a bit over here.

  21. Pretty awesome stuff, indeed, but the cam isn’t live 😛

  22. Brickedin21

    first of all, Sir Eccles, “the face on mars” was nothing but a crap camera that made it happen to look like a face. new images of the “face” reveals that is actually nothing. just a regular mountain range. also, Rob, you need to get a life, holy hell. third. cool, about time.

  23. Nunuv.Yerbizness

    That’s “Bedevere”, not “Bedemir”!

  24. The signal does NOT take over 1 minute to get back from mars, They should update it atleast daily.


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