New Interactive Mosaic Uses NASA Imagery to Show Mars in Vivid Detail
Cliffsides, impact craters, and dust devil tracks are captured in mesmerizing detail in a new mosaic of the Red Planet composed of 110,000 images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Taken by the veteran spacecraft’s black-and-white Context Camera, or CTX, the images cover nearly 25 square meters (270 square feet) of surface per pixel.
That makes the Global CTX Mosaic of Mars the highest-resolution global image of the Red Planet ever created. If it were printed out, this 5.7 trillion-pixel (or 5.7 terapixel) mosaic would be large enough to cover the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
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 is so detailed that more than 120 peer-reviewed science papers have already cited a beta version. But the mosaic is also easy enough for anyone to use.
“I wanted something that would be accessible to everyone,” said 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.”
CTX is among three cameras onboard MRO, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. One of those cameras, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), provides color images of surface features as small as a dining room table. In contrast, CTX provides a broader view of the terrain around those features, helping scientists understand how they’re related. Its ability to capture larger expanses of the landscape has made CTX especially useful for spotting impact craters on the surface. A third camera, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), led by the same team that operates CTX, produces a daily global map of Mars weather at a much lower spatial resolution.
The mosaic was funded as part of NASA’s Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools (PDART) program, which helps develop new ways to use existing NASA data. The scientific products of extended missions like MRO make this data more accessible.