NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has shifted its orbit to help scientists make the first systematic observations of how morning fogs, clouds and surface frost develop in different seasons on the Red Planet.
The maneuver took place Tuesday. Odyssey team engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, designed the gentle move to accelerate Odyssey's drift toward a morning-daylight orbit.
The desired change will occur gradually until the intended orbit geometry is reached in November 2015 and another maneuver halts the drift.
The change will enable observation of changing ground temperatures after sunrise and after sunset in thousands of places on Mars.
Those observations could yield insight about the composition of the ground and about temperature-driven processes, such as warm-season flows observed on some slopes, and geysers fed by spring thawing of carbon-dioxide ice near Mars' poles.
"We're teaching an old spacecraft new tricks," Odyssey Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of JPL, said.
"Odyssey will be in position to see Mars in a more different light from ever before," he added.
Odyssey was launched in 2001 and began its science mission 12 years ago this month. It is the longest-working spacecraft ever sent to Mars.