NASA has just released a new interactive feature that lets you explore the surface of Mars. The exploration tool uses a complex mosaic of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and took 6 years to create.
The mosaic is composed of 110,000 images from the Orbiter. The photos were taken by the black and white Context Camera, or CTX, and cover nearly 270 square feet (25 square meters) of surface per pixel.
According to NASA’s website, this massive detail makes the Global CTX Mosaic of Mars the “highest-resolution global image of the Red Planet ever created”. The stitched images amount to a whopping 5.7 trillion megapixels. If it was printed out, it would allegedly be large enough to cover the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
“I wanted something that would be accessible to everyone,” says Jay Dickson, the image processing scientist who led the project and manages the Murray Lab. “Schoolchildren can use this now. My mother, who just turned 78, can use this now. The goal is to lower the barriers for people who are interested in exploring Mars,” he explains.
In order to create the mosaic, Dickson made an algorithm that matched images based on their features. He then manually stitched together the remaining 13,000 images that the algorithm couldn’t match. That’s quite remarkable, knowing how much patience must have been needed!
So how does it work? It’s not so different from Google Earth, except, of course, it’s a different planet. All you need to operate it is an internet connection. You can use your mouse or trackpad to zoom in or navigate around the surface. Additionally, there are suggestions of points of interest to visit, such as craters and dried lakes that NASA’s rovers have been exploring. If you find something interesting and want to visit it again later, you can bookmark the location.
If you want to explore Mars yourself, you can find the interactive mosaic here.