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Epic Mars portrait turns the planet on its head

Take a fresh look at Mars with a European Space Agency image that brings the planet into rare focus.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft took this unusual portrait of the Red Planet.

Up and down can seem subjective when you're talking about objects in space, but most images you see of Mars are oriented so the planet's north pole is up and the south pole is down. The European Space Agency turned things around with a newly released image from its Mars Express spacecraft.

The full view is a scenic stunner showing a sweeping section of Mars with the icy northern polar cap at the bottom and the red landscape of the equator at the top. 

Mars Express captured the image on June 19 and the ESA released the glorious result on Thursday. The space agency calls it a "rare wide-angle view."

Mars Express had to do some fancy gymnastics with its high-resolution camera. "The camera was shifted to the horizon, instead of just pointing to the surface as in routine imaging," the ESA noted.

Some of the Red Planet's impressive volcanoes are on display, including the monstrous Alba Mons, a volcano with a diameter of over 620 miles (1,000 kilometers), located in the top half of the image.

It was the beginning of spring at Mars' north pole at the time of the imaging, which gives us a scenic polar cap of water ice and dust where the carbon-dioxide ice of winter had already evaporated. 

The overall effect is both epic and intimate, making this portrait of the Red Planet a real standout in the history of Mars photography.

You can also download a high-res TIFF version from the ESA if you really want to get up close and personal with the details.