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Here's what Mars would look like if you flew by on a spacecraft

Some of Mars' most fascinating landscapes might be hard for humans to see from orbit.

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This natural-color view of the Nili Patera region of Mars is what you might see out the window of a spacecraft.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Let's say you're not quite ready to move to Mars, but instead you sign up for a mission to orbit the red planet and then come back home to Earth. What kind of sightseeing might you expect? The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRise camera team knows.

On Sunday, the HiRise team at the University of Arizona shared three very different views of the same location on Mars. The Nili Patera region is a possible landing site for future human explorers. MRO snapped the image from orbit back in 2007.

The first version of the image is presented in natural color (what you'd see if you were staring out the window of a spacecraft). The other two are processed and enhanced views that help the landscape features pop out. 

These HiRise images of the Nili Patera region of Mars show how processed and enhanced views can make landscape and geologic features easier to see. Compare them with the natural-color view.


You might feel a little underwhelmed by the naked-eye appearance of Nili Patera. 

"The dark (low reflectance) regions of Mars are some of the most interesting and important regions studied by our orbiters and rovers, but they would appear very bland to humans outside of the planet's atmosphere," said the HiRise team, which called out Mars' bright and dusty atmosphere as the culprit in washing out the visuals down below.

Scientists use enhanced images to get a better idea of what's happening on the Mars surface. It makes for some spectacular visuals, like this stunner of a Mars Odyssey spacecraft view of sand dunes. Unfortunately, that's not what you'd see from just looking out from orbit. 

That doesn't mean visiting Mars would be boring. The HiRise team said the polar ice caps and bright, dust-covered regions of the planet should be easy to see. Plus, you'd be looking at freakin' Mars in person, and that would be a mind-blowing experience no matter what.

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