Want to tour Mars this weekend? You’re in luck, as a team at Caltech has published a 5.7 terapixel mosaic of Mars that can be explored in 3D, just like Google Earth.
With a resolution of five meters per pixel, the new Mars global CTX mosaic Caltech boasts twenty times the image quality of the previous global Mars maps He said. It covers about 99.5 percent of the Martian surface, between 88°N and 88°S, with the remaining half missing because the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) either did not take snapshots of the area or the images were not high enough quality to include.
The 110,000 images used to create the map were taken by file context camera aboard MRO, which has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2006. Most of the mosaics have been pieced together using a feature-matching algorithm that uses nondestructive processing to join images without resulting in blurring or smoothing between image boundaries.
The algorithm wasn’t able to do the whole thing on its own, although Dixon and his team spent three years piecing together 13,000 images by hand because clouds and dust storms in the images meant the algorithm couldn’t properly match them without human help.
“The scale of this is truly unprecedented,” said Jay Dixon, lab director in Caltech’s Bruce Murray Planetary Visualization Laboratory. Dixon was the architect of the new map and began the project in 2016 when Caltech tapped him to create the lab he now heads.
And it has an unprecedented scale: If printed at 300 dpi, Caltech said, the entire 5.7 trillion-pixel image would be large enough to be used as a sunshade for California’s Rose Bowl, and part of the parking lot too. Unfortunately, Rose Bowl venues are not included in our criteria converter.
Which Martian horizon would you like to visit today?
The 3D map scales to “bump resolution,” meaning it’s detailed enough to make out small rock formations that could be of interest to scientists, but also intended for the average internet user to view Martian landmarks.
“Schoolchildren 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,” Dixon said.
Many interesting Martian geographic features are marked with abbreviations at the bottom of the map, allowing users to quickly visit Olympus Mons, the dust-containing Medusae Fossae or a possible future landing site Terra Sirenum, among others.
For those who enjoy watching NASA’s fleet of Mars rovers, Perseverance, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity are all highlighted, with their daily paths tracked on a map so you can see how far apart they are, and how little they are. From the surface of Mars they have already explored so far.
Armchair Mars explorers will have to make one limitation, though: All images are in black and white, so the Red Planet’s reddish part must be filled in with your imagination.
Dixon admits the map is an impressive feat, but he credits the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its context camera for doing the real work.
“I’ve been working on this for six years, but the MRO team has spent the last two decades making this possible in the first place. And the spacecraft is still doing great science,” Dixon said. ®
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