2001 Mars Odyssey has contributed numerous science results supporting the Mars Exploration Program’s overall strategy of “Following the Water.” It has mapped the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals on the Martian surface. Maps of hydrogen distribution led scientists to discover vast amounts of water ice in the polar regions buried just beneath the surface. Odyssey has also recorded the radiation environment in low Mars orbit to determine the risk to any future human explorers who may go to Mars.

Water-ice (blue) and dust (red) in the atmosphere of Mars above the cratered Martian surface as viewed from orbit by the THEMIS camera (false-color composite image).
The horizon of Mars showing water-ice and dust in the atmosphere, as seen by the NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission on May 9, 2023. To find layers of ice and dust like these in Mars’s atmosphere, participants in the Cloudspotting on Mars project analyze data from a different infrared instrument, the Mars Climate Sounder on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More information on this image (including an animation) can be found here: https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/27816/odysseys-themis-views-the-horizon-of-mars/?site=msl.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU


To contribute to the four Mars Exploration Program science goals, Mars Odyssey has the following science objectives:

  • Globally map the elemental composition of the surface
  • Determine the abundance of hydrogen in the shallow subsurface
  • Acquire high spatial and spectral resolution images of the surface mineralogy
  • Provide information on the morphology of the Martian surface
  • Characterize the Martian near-space radiation environment as related to radiation-induced risk to human explorers

Science Highlights

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has beamed back more than a million images, gathered during 23 years in orbit around the Red Planet. That wealth of data has yielded an abundance of significant scientific knowledge about water ice on Mars, the composition and physical properties of the planet's surface, and Mars' two moons.

Learn More About Odyssey's Science Highlights
Four side-by-side images, overhead views of different landscapes on Mars: The first image shows a flat area with a few small craters. The terrain around the edge of the frame is a dull copper color, while the rest is very bright, in shades of very light green and turquoise. The second image appears to be a crater or valley, but looks like the right half of a sunflower bloom, although colored in shades of tan and brown, except for the petals at the top of the frame, which are highlighted in very light shades of mint green. The third image shows a much more uneven and rocky surface, with rust-colored craters and outcroppings; on each of those the south-facing edges are dabbed with higlights of whitish light blue. The fourth image is of mostly flat ground, colored a dull copper, resembling a face with rocky outcroppings creating two eyes up top, a nose in the middle, and a crooked mouth at the bottom of the frame. The eyes shine brightly and the nose is highlighted slightly in bright blue, coloring the south-facing slopes.
Martian surface frost, made up largely of carbon dioxide, appears blueish-white in these images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera aboard NASA’s 2001 Odyssey orbiter. THEMIS takes images in both visible light perceptible to the human eye and heat-sensitive infrared.

Science Instruments

The Mars Odyssey Orbiter spacecraft carries three science tools for acquiring information about Martian geology, atmosphere, environmental conditions, and potential biosignatures.

Learn More About Odyssey's Science Instruments
A black and silver cone-shaped device, wrapped in gold foil around its center, sits atop a dull gray ring on a table in a workshop or lab. Instead of a point, its top is short, squat, cylinder, and veers off-center, toward the upper left of the image at a 120-degree ange. The cylinder is also gold around its top edge, which is reeded like the edge of a coin, and the entire device has white wires plugged into it at various locations.
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