The Solar System in 3-D


Compiled by
Paul M. Schenk, David Gwynn, and James Tutor

View Slides Now


Over the past 30 years, images from NASA spacecraft have revealed our neighboring planets and moons to be surprisingly diverse and complex worlds. These images are usually shown as two-dimensional photographs. This collection of 3-D images of the planets and their moons provides a unique perspective, and allows us to sense the topography and ruggedness of these planetary surfaces in ways that are otherwise not possible. The slide set features representative 3-D images of the Sun, planets, moons, and asteroids, and an overview of the entire solar system. The slide set also features prominent examples of each major type of geologic feature, including impact craters, tectonic features, volcanos, and river valleys. Images from the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, and of atmospheric features, are also included. The slides are organized by planet, starting from the Sun and continuing out to Pluto. The slides can also be rearranged and presented by geologic topic; a sample geologic tour is included at the end of this booklet. Terms appearing in the glossary are underlined at their first occurrence in this booklet.

Most of these 3-D images were obtained from hundreds to tens of thousands of kilometers distance from the target surface. To achieve the 3-D effect from these distances, each slide was constructed from two separate images taken at two different times and positions (sometimes tens of thousands of kilometers apart). These two views simulate the stereo view we would have if our eyes were very far apart. The illustration below shows how Voyager obtained two separate views of Saturn’s moon Rhea in November 1980. These two views were later digitally recombined to produce the 3-D view in slide #36. Because of this large separation, many of these views provide an exaggerated sense of relief (the relative degree of exaggeration, where available, is given with each caption).

Voyager Illustration


Geologic Tour
The Solar System in 3-D can also be used to illustrate the diversity of geologic features on the planets. We provide a sample tour that will show volcanos, tectonic features, impact craters, and atmospheric features.

Preview the slides to be sure that the 3-D effect works in your lecture room and with your projection system. A bright projector is recommended. Red-blue 3-D glasses are required for viewing, with the red lens over the left eye. The audience should view the slides from in front of the screen, as viewing from the sides reduces the stereo effect. Allow the audience ~30 seconds to adjust their vision. (A small fraction of the population is unable to see in stereo.) These slides must be shown in the proper orientation (top down and rear side toward screen for most projectors), or the stereo effect will not occur or will be reversed.

About the Authors

The senior author, Dr. Paul Schenk, is a staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. Dr. Schenk completed his Ph.D. in planetary geosciences in 1988 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Since joining the research staff at the LPI in 1991, he has been using Voyager and Viking stereo images to map the topography and geology of the icy outer planet satellites and Mars. Dr. Schenk has been a stereo image afficionado for many years, and became interested in stereo images of the planets because they reveal geologic features not otherwise visible, thereby greatly aiding our understanding of how and why features on the planets formed.

David Gwynn is currently a graduate student at Texas A&M University, studying the topography and formation of alluvial fan deposits on Earth and Mars. James Tutor has been an undergraduate research assistant at LPI and NASA Johnson Spacecraft Center for the past several years.

View Slides Now

Back to top | Back to LPI Slide Sets | Back to LPI Home page