MADRID, 10 Apr. (EUROPEAN PRESS) –
Scientists and the general public can now browse a new global image of the Red Planet that was taken at Caltech using data from the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Cliffs, impact craters and dust trails are captured in mesmerizing detail in a new mosaic of the Red Planet composed of 110,000 images taken by the spacecraft’s veteran black-and-white context camera, or CTX. the images cover almost 25 square meters of surface area per pixel.
This makes the Global CTX Mosaic of Mars in the highest resolution global image of the Red Planet ever created. If it was printed, this mosaic of 5.7 trillion pixels (or 5.7 terapixels) it would be big enough to cover Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
SIX YEARS OF WORK
The product of Caltech’s Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization, the mosaic took six years and tens of thousands of hours to develop. It’s so detailed that over 120 peer-reviewed scientific papers have already cited a beta version. But the tile is also easy to use for anyone.
“I wanted something that was accessible to everyone,” said Jay Dickson, the imaging scientist who led the project and manages the Murray Lab, in a statement. “School-age kids can use this now. My mother, who just turned 78, can use this now. The goal is to lower the barriers for people interested in exploring Mars.”
The CTX is one of three cameras aboard the MRO, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. One such camera, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), provides color images of surface features as small as a dining table. Instead, CTX provides a broader view of the terrain around these features, helping scientists understand how they are related. Its ability to capture larger swathes of the landscape made the CTX especially useful for detecting surface impact craters. A third camera, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), operated by the same team that operates the CTX, produces a daily global map of the weather on Mars at a much lower spatial resolution.
Taking pictures since the MRO arrived at Mars in 2006, the CTX has documented almost the entire Red Planet, making its images an ideal starting point for scientists when creating a map. A bit like looking for a needle in a haystack and putting together a jigsaw puzzle at the same time, mapping requires downloading and browsing through a wide variety of images to find ones with the same lighting conditions and clear skies, informs NASA.
To create the new mosaic, Dickson developed an algorithm to combine the images based on the features they captured. He manually stitched together the remaining 13,000 images that the algorithm couldn’t match. The remaining spaces in the mosaic represent parts of Mars that had not been imaged by CTX when Dickson started working on this project, or areas obscured by clouds or dust.
Laura Kerber, Mars Scientist at JPL, provided commentary on the new mosaic as it took shape. “I’ve wanted something like this for a long time,” Kerber said. “It’s a beautiful product of art and also useful for science.”
Kerber recently used the image to visit his favorite spot on Mars: Medusae Fossae, a dusty region the size of Mongolia. Scientists don’t know exactly how it formed; Kerber proposed that it could be a pile of ash from a nearby volcano. With the click of a button on the CTX mosaic you can see the old river channels, now dry, that meander through the landscape.
Users can also jump into regions such as Gale and Jezero craters, areas being explored by NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, or visit Olympus Mons, the highest volcano in the solar system, adding topographical data from the Mars Global mission. NASA Surveyor. One of the notable features of the mosaic highlights impact craters across the planet, allowing viewers to see just how scarred the surface of Mars is.