VMC Schools campaign projects

Get ready to do a lot of scrolling! This is our biggest, baddest blog post ever! #VMCSchools

ESA_AnimationThey’re in!

We’re starting to receive projects from the schools, youth groups and clubs that are taking part in our VMC Imaging Campaign, and the results are simply superb!

This blog post will present the ones we’ve received so far, and we’ll update you in future posts once we get the rest (several participants asked for extensions past the 31 July deadline until September, so it will still be a few weeks – but that’s fine when the quality is this good!).

To recap: In March/April, VMC imaging target proposals were submitted by 25 schools, youth groups and clubs in 12 countries. After extensive analysis, the Mars Express team at ESOC confirmed 22 were doable, given spacecraft and priority science constraints; later, the remaining three participates agreed to take over alternate targets so, in fact, all 25 received image sets. Imaging took place during several dedicated orbits 25/26 May, and we distributed image sets via email the first week in June.

Here’s a little teaser animation developed by the MEX team using most of the 1000+ images acquired as part of the VMC Schools campaign, mashed up to show a full orbit:

Since then, participating groups have been working on analysis of their images, and on educational projects that make use of the images in imaginative, scientific and/or artistic ways (this is a STEAM activity, after all!). And the results are well worth the wait!

Here’s the first impression sent in from the MEX team at ESOC, courtesy Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Engineer Andy Johnstone:

You’ve all achieved what we wanted to accomplish with this project by taking our fairly basic VMC images and doing some really cool things with them! Some of your efforts in image processing have been spectacular and deserve to be published in an astronomy magazine! Your artistry has been amazing and helped brighten up our control room, while the stories, videos and imaginings of visits to the Red Planet have been awesome.

The main thing that’s stood out to us is the passion and enthusiasm that you’ve all shown. That has really made us proud and we’re very glad that this opportunity (conjunction season!) to get so many VMC images came up. We’re planning to have another webcast in September, once the final two projects are in, to go through each of your projects and give you all some feedback.

Thank you all for the effort you’ve put in and we hope that if we manage to do anything similar in the future that you’ll all take part again.

Herewith, we are tremendously delighted (and I dare say just a little proud!) to present (in alphabetical order) the first sets of results and projects from ESA’s VMC Imaging Campaign.

Associazione Astronomica Antares, Foligno, Italy
Target: Cavi Angusti

Analysis of atmosphere and ice cap

AIM: The chosen region of Mars (Cavi Angusti, a latin name as almost all the geological Mars structures) is located in the south polar region of the Red planet, and is characterized by vast and deep valleys where the thin atmosphere of Mars can produce fogs or mists with daily development. The Mars Express spacecraft passed several times over Cavi Angusti at a distance of about 3000 km, at different times of Martian days, thus allowing us to study the area with a detail of a few kilometres, enough to reveal any cloud formations.

VMC Schools Campaign - results from Antares Foligno

VMC Schools Campaign – results from Antares Foligno

Results from Antares Foligno

Results from Antares Foligno

Aspiration Creation, Dunwoody, GA, USA
Target: South Pole

Project report: The South Pole – A Comparison/Contrast of Planets Earth and Mars During Summer Solstice

Project PPT in website

  • Our images are of Mars’ South Pole in Summer
  • We separated into groups to research the south poles of Mars and Earth, focusing on Summer
  • Each group was responsible for finding information (and pictures) and becoming the Subject Expert on that information
  • Subject Experts took notes and were required to explain their findings to the rest of the larger group
  • Everyone collaborated to aggregate findings into a list
  • Final list was used to create a Venn Diagram illustrating differences and similarities
Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation

Curiosity Laboratory, Asociacion Codec de Madrid, Spain
Target: SHARP MOUNTAIN (where Curiosity landed)

AIM: We would like also to reflect, using the images facilitated by ESA, on the challenges that exploring our dear red planet pose, and on how they can be overcome so that men can get to Mars.

We have used your Mars images about Aeolis Mons in our “space and robotic project” with our children in CODEC. Please, find our latest video “Arriving Mars 2020“, performing the whole Mars missions! And with this CURIOSITY LAB FINAL VIDEO we would like to complete our project with ESA. THANK YOU and ESA so much for all this fantastic images!

Hathern Primary School,  Leicestershire, UK
Target: Meridian I Planum

AIM: To investigate the conclusion that water was present on Mars looking at surface features such as hematite. Investigate extremophiles present on Earth that may have been present on Mars both in the watery past, and present dry conditions. Come to conclusions about what bio signatures may be present to provide evidence of former or current life. Draw and make artistic representations of life on Mars. Write a poem about life on Mars.

Project PPT

Project art

Project art in Flickr

Slide35Hathern School art

Hathern School art

mars art images_Page_22Slide45

HTBLA Kaindorf, Kaindorf an der Sulm, Austria
Target: Martian Northpole

AIM: Image the Northpole, because we want to find the best landing site for a manned mission. In winter Planum Boreum’s permanent ice cap consisting mainly of water ice and carbondioxid reaches its maximum. So we can find ground without ice to land on, but has water nearby.

Project website (EN): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/

Project website (DE): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/indexDE.html

Project website (ES): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/indexES.html

Life on MarsClick for a fabulous animation!ESA_Animation40 October 2043:: The best ‘glimpse of the future’ we’ve seen! How an astronaut will view Mars, courtesy of the Mars Express VMC and HTBLA Kaindorf.

Innovation Centre Mill of Knowledge, Toruń, Poland Target: System of canyons: Valles Marineris (Location: 13.8S, 59.2W)

AIM: This is interesting because: the Valles Marineris rift system is one of the larger canyons of the Solar System and stretches for nearly a quarter of the planet’s circumference. It has been recently suggested that Valles Marineris is a large tectonic “crack” in the Martian crust. Most researchers agree that this formed as the crust thickened in the That is region to the west, and was subsequently widened by erosion. However, near the eastern flanks of the rift, there appear to be some channels that may have been formed by water or carbon dioxide. The Valles Marineris canyon system is is such a great example of the planet’s tectonic activity and place of geological processes occurrence. In addition, it is possible that in these canyons once flowed water and this could be a friendly place for the emergence and development of life on Mars. Project PPT Project video Project images in Flickr      VMC Schools Workshop, Poland

IES Alpujarra, Spain
Target: Olympus Mons or whichever frustum-like mountain whose dimensions are well known and easily available

AIM: Kids will firstly work out the picture scale using data available on the Internet and the picture itself. Secondly, they’ll calculate some distances in a straight line and the dimensions and areas of some shapes that may be found on the picture. Thirdly, we’ll try to determine some slopes on the picture to work out an average. Finally, we’ll calculate the approximate area and volume of Mount Olympus thinking of it as a frustum. The results will be presented in English.

Project webpage:

IES Alpujarra - ESA

IES Alpujarra – ESA

Student worksheet:

Out of This World Space Program, Marietta, GA USA
Target: Elysium Mons

Aim: Convert picture to a 3D scaled model and present it to the Science lab or make a puzzle with the picture or make posters that we could place in a local park to teach the general public about the awesomeness of Mars and ESA.

Project PPT

Artemis13 from Mt. Bethel Media Center on Vimeo.

State Gymnasium No. 1, Riga, Latvia
Target: Ares Vallis (19.13 N, 33.22 W), located in the northern hemisphere or Mars

AIM: This is a great target because:

  1. Its a very large feature(1700km diameter). and easily noticeable
  2. It is possible it was carved by fluids from when Mars still had liquid water on its surface. There are numerous estuaries and deltas of past rivers.
  3. Large amount of craters
  4. The NASA probe Pathfinder sits in Ares Vallis.
  5.  Mark Watney, the character from the popular fictional book “The Martian” travels through Ares Vallis and even recovers the Pathfinder
  6. Last time Mars Express took photos of the Valleys was back in 2007


Sterrenwacht de Polderster, Assenede, Belgium Target: Phillips crater

AIM: Would like to do astrophoto processsing. The height (1900km) of the spacecraft is not too low. Images of 200ms must be possible to resolve. 15-146-VMC merge 48-66 10ms with labels PV and SL


Processed images via Flickr

Sternwarte Siebengebirge e.V., Bad Honnef, Germany
Target: Olympus Mons / Tharsis region, Volcanoes

AIM: By participating in the VMC Imaging Campaign we aim to achieve:

  • The inspiration and enthusiasm of children, adolescents and adults in the subject of space, astronomy, space travel, ESA and in particular the Mars Express mission
  • The wider publication and awareness of the Mars Express research results, also through our own publications
  • The promotion of scientific knowledge about our neighboring planet Mars
  • The combination of science and art
  • The promotion of our present knowledge of the volcanoes on Mars in comparison with the volcanic past of the Siebengebirge and the nearby Vulkan-Eifel
  • The awareness of our new club by a wider audience
  • Raising public awareness of our aim to create a planet park and a stationary observatory in the Siebengebirge nature reserve.

Project website

Sternwarte Siebengebirge

Sternwarte Siebengebirge

RESULTS TBC: The club jury will view the works of art from the participating schools and select the most striking piece. The award to the best work of art will take place at a public exhibition. The school being awarded first place will be presented with a new telescope for educational use. Thereafter there will be a presentation on the subject of the VMC Imaging Campaign, Olympus Mons and volcanoes on Mars and on Earth (in particular in the Siebengebirge region).

Children’s Club Reegulus, University of Tartu Museum, Old Observatory, Tartu, Estonia, Target: Terra Meridiani

AIM: Our project is called “Picture can say more than a thousand words.” Our aim is to see what are the thousand words we can say about the picture in order to discuss with the children the ways in which we can study other planets in comparison to our own. We would like to use the image to study Martian landscape in detail with the children also with the help of geologists from the University of Tartu Natural History Museum. In addition to geology, we would also like to use the materials as part of the Struve Arc celebrations talking about mapping Earth and Mars. After we have discussed the features seen in the picture, the children will choose the thousand words to be featured on a poster with the picture. This poster will be shown in our museum for the public and we will introduce this also at a large festival taking place in July festival that also has a science section. We already have a programme for schools where we compare the atmospheres of Earth, Mars, Venus and Titan to each other and discuss why we should appreciate our environment.

Children's Club Reegulus

Poster display by Children’s Club Reegulus at Science Festival

Poster as displayed at the Tartu Science Festival

We printed out a number of images and posted them on a whiteboard. Then we began adding words and questions to the whiteboard: what we saw, what we knew and what else we needed to find out. We visited the University of Tartu Natural History Museum to find out about the geology of Mars. After the visit, we added more words, statements and questions to our board. During the final meeting we tried to answer as much questions as possible with the aid of literature and internet and decided on the content of the poster. The poster was finished for a science festival we had in Tartu in July 2015 and the visitors of the festival were able to read it. We also filmed the whole process but unfortunately were not able to secure everyone’s permission to publish this.  Perhaps we will do a trailer version later.

The poster gives an overview of Mars that is based mostly on what we saw from the images and the questions that came to our mind while looking at the pictures. The children were most fascinated about the volcanoes, the possibility of life on Mars and, of course, when will we land a human on Mars.



We’ve just mailed the image sets! Phew! Please check your mail – and ensure that we have a correct valid email address for you/your team/school/group.

This is a collage of Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) images acquired on 25 May and downloaded to Earth early on 26 May 2015. They are among the first in a series of over 2000 images that are being acquired by Mars Express in support of the VMC Schools Campaign. ESA/Mars Express/VMC – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

This is a collage of Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) images acquired on 25 May and downloaded to Earth early on 26 May 2015. They are among the first in a series of over 2000 images that are being acquired by Mars Express in support of the VMC Schools Campaign. ESA/Mars Express/VMC – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The mail you’ll get will read, in part:

The VMC image files acquired by Mars Express on 25/26 May 2015 and showing your requested target (or adequate replacements – see comment below) are now available for download as a ZIP/RAR archive via:


Note also: you will find a set of RAW images in each image archive; these are the original data images as recorded by the VMC on board MEX, and as retrieved on Earth. For details on working with these, VMC blog.
Continue reading

Update 29 May – and exploring Mars on Earth

Today’s update from the MEX team at ESOC on progress of the VMC Schools Campaign.

Initial image processing complete; all files exported as PNGs, together with the original RAW-format files (i.e. as recorded by VMC on board MEX). Total PNG file size is 702MB. Now the sorting can begin!

And while you’re waiting….

On Friday, 22 May (during last week’s ESAHangout for the VMC Schools Campaign), students at the Curiosity Lab (Madrid) were deeply occupied in… exploring Mars! And we’ve got the the video to prove it (see below).

Curiosity Lab is one of the youth groups taking part in the VMC Schools Campaign, and have specifically requested images showing Aeolis Mons. ¡Muchas gracias! to the entire team for sharing this lively video – and best wishes for your VMC project – we can’t wait to see it!

PS: The Curiosity lab group have published an update on their VMC Schools Campaign participation in their blog (in Spanish).



First VMC School Campaign images are down!

This is a collage of Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) images acquired on 25 May and downloaded to Earth early on 26 May 2015. They are among the first in a series of over 2000 images that are being acquired by Mars Express in support of the VMC Schools Campaign!

Collage of Mars Express VMC images acquired 25 May 2015 Credit: ESA/Mars Express/VMC – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Collage of Mars Express VMC images acquired 25 May 2015 Credit: ESA/Mars Express/VMC – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

We wanted to share a low-resolution mash-up with you, just so you knew ‘your’ images are being delivered! The complete image sets, at full VMC 640X480 resolution will be delivered to campaign participants starting as early as Friday this week.

VMC Imaging Campaign – making the grade

Today’s blog post announces the list of proposals that have met the minimum requirements for consideration as VMC imaging targets.

As of 12:00CET today, the open period for VMC Imaging Campaign proposals is closed.

ApprovedWe are incredibly delighted with all the proposals (44 were submitted!), each of which demonstrated imagination and a real enthusiasm for Mars. Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit.

Of these 44, 25 have met the minimum requirements for consideration. Congratulations to those who made the grade! (The full list is at the bottom of this post.)

Making the grade

19 proposals have been rejected, as they failed to meet the minimum requirements, e.g., were not submitted by a group, or were submitted from someone from an ineligible country. We’ve already emailed some of those proposers to tell the news, but this blog post is the ‘official’ announcement: If your proposal is not in the listing below, then you have been rejected as failing to meet the minimum requirements.

Of the remaining 25 valid proposals, that is, the ones in the list below, we intend to try and accommodate as many as possible, but some may yet have to be dropped. This is not because of your efforts, but instead the decision will come down simply to us having a strictly limited observation period and various restrictions relating to spacecraft safety (see our earlier posts: Why conjunction frees up VMC time and VMC Imaging Campaign).

The next step for the Mars Express team is to assess the proposals that are considered to be the most promising (in terms of requested observation target and proposed group project) and work out how many of these observations we will be able to carry out.

How it’s done downtown

This is precisely what professional scientists face when requesting an observation from any spacecraft!

They submit their requests and the mission planners, flight dynamics teams and flight control teams try to carry out as many of these as possible.

As well as checking if a target is in view and safe to observe, there are other factors that have to be taken into account mostly to do with our ‘budgets’. Now by budget we don’t necessarily mean money – but the analogy is the same – you can only spend what is available. We have many budgets, but the main two in this case are the power budget and the data link budget.

To briefly explain these:

  • Power Budget – as Mars in in a more elliptical orbit than Earth, its distance from the Sun varies significantly over the course of a Martian year (and, thus, so does that of Mars Express), meaning that our solar arrays generate less power and so less is available to supply the instruments at certain time.Also, reduced sunlight makes the spacecraft colder, meaning more power has to be supplied to the heaters, further reducing what is left. We also have eclipse seasons, where the spacecraft passes through the shadow of Mars. During these periods, MEX has to rely on batteries and then recharge them once it orbits back into sunlight. This further reduces the remaining margin.
  • Link Budget – For communication purposes, we often talk about the distance between Mars and Earth in ‘one-way light time’. This is the amount of time our radio signals take to travel from Earth to Mars at the speed of light.As both planets circle the Sun at different rates, this can vary from about 5 to over 21 minutes. So how does this affect science? To use an analogy, if you stand close to someone, you can speak quite quickly and be understood — but if you are at opposite ends of the street, you’ll have to shout slowly to get your message across.It’s similar for us; at the farthest point from Earth, the MEX data rates can be 10x lower (than when nearest), meaning we either need 10x as much time to communicate with Earth, or produce only 1/10th of the science (or strike a balance in between).

Striking balances between the various budgets  is a big part of what our mission planners have to do and this observation campaign is no different. We’ll do our best but won’t be able to confirm anything for a few more weeks.

Accepted for planning consideration

Here’s the list of teams that we are going to advance to the next planning stage. Note that some of you have chosen similar targets, or observations that may be combined, which does make things easier from our side. Listing is in no particular order.

Name Country Target
HTBLA Kaindorf, Kaindorf an der Sulm Austria North Pole
Vulkanlandsternwarte, Feldbach Austria Kasei Vallis
Sterrenwacht de Polderster, Assende Belgium Phillips Crater (South Pole)
Children’s Club Reegulus, University of Tartu Museum, Old Observatory Estonia Terra Meridiani
Friedrich-Koenig-Gymnasium (FKG), Würtsburg Germany Hypanis Vallis or Oxia Planum
Grundschule Klosterfelde Germany Hellas Planitia
State International School Seeheim Germany Global view of Mars
Sternwarte Siebengebirge, Bad Honnef Germany Olympus Mons and Tharsis region
Friends of Astronomy Club, Thessaloniki Greece Olympus Mons
Associazione Astronomica Antares, Foligno Italy Cavi Angusti
Cosmoscuola, INAF Astronomical Observatory of Rome Italy Candor Chasma
Riga State Gymnasium No. 1 Latvia Ares Vallis
Innovation Centre Mill of Knowledge, Toruń Poland Valles Marineris
Lisbon School of Education (ESELx) Portugal Phlegra Montes
Curiosity Laboratory, Asociacion Codec de Madrid Spain Aeolis Mons
IES Alpujarra, Órgiva Spain Olympus Mons
Hathern C of E Primary School, Loughborough UK Meridiani Planum
Aspiration Creation, Dunwoody USA North Pole
Mars Without Borders, Los Angeles USA (CA) Valles Marinaris, Olympus Mons, Meridiani Planum or Schiaparelli
Cub Scout Pack 711 Jupiter Elementary School Florida USA (FL) Mars in half phase showing good shadows.
Out Of This World Space Program, Mariettta USA (GA) Elysium Mons
School for Tomorrow, Rockville USA (MD) Phobos
Emma C. Chase Elementary School, Wurtsboro USA (NY) Noctis Labyrinthus or Kasei Valles
Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York USA (NY) Valles Marineris
Borinquen Academy of Fine Arts USA(PR) (project does not require specific target)

Well done to all of you for advancing to this stage and we hope to try and squeeze in as many of these observations as we can!

Announcement of accepted proposals

We are aiming to have the final list of accepted proposals ready to announce within approximately 8 May, and ideally even sooner than that. We’ll update you on planning progress in a couple weeks.

Watch this space!

And thanks again to everyone who submitted observation requests.