Nobody would have believed it back then; when the European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft Mars Express was launched on 2 June 2003 to investigate our neighbouring planet, its mission was intended to last one Mars year, which is equivalent to about two Earth years.
Grabens, dendritic valleys, lava flows and the highest known mountain in the Solar System – in the images from the German stereo camera on board the Mars Express spacecraft, the topography of the Red Planet appears so three-dimensional that you could walk through it.
Huge landslides, lava flows and tectonic forces have generated the stunning landscape seen in these images acquired by the DLR-operated HRSC camera system on board the Mars Express spacecraft.
Intense underground steam explosions that occurred during the crater formation process could be responsible for the central depressions present in these 'twin' craters, located on Thaumasia Planum, an elevated plateau that lies immediately to the south of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the Solar System.
The northern hemisphere of Mars is a single, massive lowland with only a few distinctive landscape features. Frequent, intense dust and sand storms are recurrent here over the course of the seasons. When this happens, the wind transports very small particles, which are either deposited in other locations, or, if they encounter rock, leave their mark through the effects of erosion.
On 13 January 2013 the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, imaged the mouth of the Tinto Vallis region of Mars, southwest of Palos Crater.
As we look at the numerous graben and valleys that wind through the Martian highlands, it is not always clear which geological processes created them.
Observing a seasonal phenomenon has its own special appeal on Mars. As the planet's rotational axis has a slightly greater inclination to that of Earth, our planetary neighbour experiences distinct seasons too – except these last around twice as long since it takes nearly two Earth years for Mars to orbit the Sun.
Nereidum Montes, a chain of mountains over 1000 kilometres long, is part of the northern rim of Argyre Basin, the second largest impact basin on Mars. On 6 June 2012, the HRSC camera on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, which is operated by DLR, photographed a part of this mountain range
Mars is clearly much smaller than Earth, but it can still come up with impressive superlatives. Several landscape features have unquestionably enormous dimensions – at over 21 kilometres in height, Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the Solar System; the Hellas impact basin is more than 2000 kilometres across and eight kilometres deep – but particularly spectacular is the Valles Marineris canyon system
On 8 June 2012, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, acquired images of a region inside the Argyre Impact Basin, which is 1800 kilometres across and five kilometres deep.
Hadley Crater on Mars has been subject to several impacts by large asteroids in the course of its history. The 'craters within a crater' formed in this way give us a view over two kilometres into the Martian crust.
On 27 April 2012, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft acquired images of part of Ladon Valles. These images show an area north of the Holden and Eberswalde craters in Mars' southern highlands.
On 17 April 2012, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft acquired images of a region in Melas Dorsa.
The Arabia Terra region on Mars is populated with numerous craters, filled with deposits of various materials that, over time, have become severely eroded. The latest images acquired by the HRSC camera show many features of this kind, known as 'yardangs', in Danielson Crater; the different types of material these contain could be explained by changes in the climate.
Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in the Solar System and a potential refuge for extraterrestrial life, is 7000 metres deep and stretches for some 4000 kilometres along the Martian equator.
New images from the HRSC camera on board the Mars Express spacecraft show numerous dried up river valleys and various former crater lakes in the Acidalia Planitia region. They are further evidence of the existence of water on the surface of Mars for an extended period of time. Such areas are of particular interest to the search for microbial life, which may have developed here under these circumstances.
In the Tharsis volcanic region, almost the size of Europe, the Martian highlands have arched up into a shield several thousand metres in height as a consequence of volcanic processes. Quite a few unusual topographic features can be observed there.
Ius Chasma is one of the main graben in Valles Marineris, one of the largest known canyon systems in the Solar System. Over a length of 940 kilometres, Ius Chasma forms the northern boundary between the western half of this enormous valley system and the Martian highlands.
Amateur astronomers who on occasion observe Mars through the eyepiece of their telescopes are quite familiar with the region of Syrtis Major; when observing conditions are good, it can be easily identified as a dark spot on Mars.