NASA releasing high-res photos of the Martian surface is nothing unusual: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera has been capturing the planet on cam since 2005. This latest image dump, however, is particularly huge: it consists of over a thousand images that can familiarize you with the red planet's many craters, impact sites, dunes, mountains, ice caps and other features. Alfred McEwen, director of the Planetary Image Research Laboratory, told Popular Science that the satellite was able to take tons of pictures and send them back quickly thanks to a couple of factors.
See, every 26 months, Mars and the sun are on the opposites sides of the Earth, giving MRO a strong, unobstructed connection to its ground team for a few weeks. That allows the satellite to beam a hefty amount of data back home. It just so happened that this event, which occurred in May this year, coincided with the period wherein the sun shines directly on the Martian equator. Since that lights the planet up from north to south pole, it gives HiRise a better view of our neighbor than usual. NASA will use all the photos MRO takes to find the best landing sites for future missions, such as the InSight lander.
The rather haunting image above features the steep slopes of the Hebes Chasma, while the one below shows a dune field in the North Pole called the Kolhar. These are but two of the many, many images HiRise sent back, though. If you want to look through every single one of them, check them out on HiRise's official website.
[Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]