NASA isn't the only space agency with big Mars plans. The European Space Agency and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, launched the ExoMars mission in March. The spacecraft is on its way to the Red Planet. Once there, it's tasked with sniffing Mars' atmosphere. ExoMars won't arrive until October, but scientists are busy testing out its capabilities, including photography, along the journey.
The ESA released the first ExoMars test image on Thursday. The picture might look like static or a close-up view of some sort of glitter material, but it's actually a broad look at the stars on the way to Mars. "Although it was not designed to look at faint stars, these first images are very reassuring. Everything points to us being able to get good data at Mars," said Nicolas Thomas, a camera specialist for the mission.
ExoMars is particularly interested in the search for methane in Mars' atmosphere. The ESA notes that methane "could point to active geological or biological processes on the plane." Another expected highlight of the mission will happen when the experimental Schiaparelli lander descends to the Red Planet's surface. It's mainly designed as a test of landing technologies, but it will also spend a short amount of time studying the local environment, including wind and temperature.