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Hubble snaps a fetching new portrait of Mars

Mars is quite the looker in a new image taken by Hubble, the space telescope that normally focuses on far-off nebulae and stars.

Mars by Hubble
Hubble takes a good long look at Mars.
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Mars will make a close approach to Earth on May 30, coming within just 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers). The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated the nearness a little early with the release of a fresh portrait of the Red Planet on Thursday. Hubble snapped the image on May 12 with Mars at a distance of 50 million miles (about 80.5 million kilometers).

The varied terrain of Mars in on full display in the shot. You can see craters, volcanic regions, basins and large swathes of sandy deposits. Wispy white clouds float in the planet's atmosphere, giving it an almost whimsical look, like a giant glass marble hovering against the darkness of space.

The side of Mars on display in the Hubble image has seen a lot of human-related activity. It contains the landing sites for Viking 1, Mars Pathfinder and the Opportunity rover. As Mars closes in on Earth, space watchers will be keeping an eye on the Red Planet. Even casual viewers can step outside at night and see the planet already looks brighter than usual.