The albedo of Mars: Six Mars years of observations from Pancam on the Mars Exploration Rovers and comparisons to MOC, CTX and HiRISE

Melissa S. Rice, Michael Reynolds, Genevieve Studer-Ellis, James Bell, Jeffrey R. Johnson, Kenneth E. Herkenhoff, Danika Wellington, Kjartan M. Kinch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity have systematically used their Panoramic Camera (Pancam) instruments to estimate the Lambert albedo of the surface across their traverses in Gusev crater and Meridiani Planum. The 360˚ “albedo pan” observations acquired with Pancam's broadband (739 ± 338 nm) L1 filter allow for quantitative estimates of the overall surface albedo and measurements of individual surface features. As of November 2016, over nearly six Mars years of the MER mission, Spirit acquired 20 albedo pans (over 7,730 m of traverse distance) and Opportunity acquired 117 albedo pans (over 42,368 m of traverse distance). For Spirit, this comprises the rover's complete dataset. The ranges of Pancam-derived albedos at Gusev crater (0.14–0.24) and at Meridiani Planum (0.11–0.22, with one anomalously high measurement of 0.27 during the July 2007 global dust storm) are consistent with large-scale albedos of the sites as previously determined by the Viking Orbiter Infrared Thermal Mapper (IRTM), Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), MGS Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) and MRO Mars Color Imager (MARCI) instruments. Through comparisons with atmospheric opacity measurements, temporal changes in Pancam albedo values provide insights into interactions between the Martian surface and atmosphere. Pancam observations are also used to “ground truth” measurements from orbit and validate radiometric calibrations, and we present comparisons across the full rover traverses to MOC, CTX, and MRO High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) data. Albedo averages from the same regions observed by Pancam and all three orbital instruments generally agree to within ± 15%. The few instances found where cross-instrument comparisons exceed the estimated instrument calibration uncertainties can be attributed to atmospheric effects and/or differences in viewing geometries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-174
Number of pages16
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Mars
  • Mars, atmosphere
  • Mars, surface
  • Photometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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