NASA has released 4K images from its Martian rovers. The composite photos feature 1.8 billion pixels, which were used to build the stunning video.
The video was created by ElderFox Documentaries using photos snapped by three NASA rovers – Spirit, Curiosity, and Opportunity. NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has given us its sharpest-ever view of the Red Planet.
“While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes,” Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Wednesday (March 4).
“This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama,” he added. Curiosity took the panorama’s constituent photos using the telephoto lens on the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam). The rover’s handlers programmed the photography in advance, instructing Curiosity to take the pictures between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day to ensure consistent lighting conditions, NASA officials said.
A second panorama that the rover team released today also spotlights Glen Torridon. This composite image, acquired using the Mastcam’s medium-angle lens, is lower resolution, sporting “only” 650 million pixels.
Mars in 4K (NASA)
These panoramas are zoomable, so the embedded photos in this story don’t do them justice. To get the full experience, check out the originals via JPL here.
Curiosity landed inside Mars’ 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater in August 2012, on a $2.5 billion mission to investigate the region’s past potential to host microbial life. The car-size robot soon found compelling evidence that Gale hosted a habitable lake-and-stream system in the ancient past and that this system likely persisted for long stretches.
In September 2014, Curiosity arrived at the base of Mount Sharp, which rises from Gale’s center. Ever since, the nuclear-powered rover has been climbing through the mountain’s foothills, reading the rocks for clues about Mars’ long-ago transition from a relatively warm and wet world to the cold desert planet we know today.
The Curiosity team just released a 1.8-billion-pixel panorama that features Glen Torridon, a region on the flanks of Mars’ 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometres) Mount Sharp that the rover has been exploring recently.
The new photo is a composite of more than 1,000 images that Curiosity snapped between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019, when the rover team was taking a break for Thanksgiving. The video opens with a narrator saying “the images in this video are all real”, requesting viewers to ‘sit back, relax and enjoy this journey across another world’.
There is no ‘live footage’ of the Red Planet from the NASA rovers. But the team stitched thousands of images together to create panoramas they panned across to create an effect similar to that of a live video.
All of the images are publicly available and shared by US-based space agency NASA, including a 1.8 billion pixel mosaic of the Martian surface.
This was taken from the Glen Torridon area, consisting of more than 1,000 images from Curiosity taken last year.
Mosaics are considered a good way for NASA to increase the available quality of the images beamed back to Earth by their rovers.
Among the panoramic images and ‘sweeping views’ featured in the video are scenes of the Meridiani Planum showing tracks made by Opportunity.
There are also views of the desert-like Cape Verde, Santa Maria Crater, the John Klein drill site for the Curiosity rover, and Glen Torridon that has ‘large amounts of clay’.
The narrator said: “In order to create a video like this several images must be stitched together to create a mosaic or panorama.”
Mars in 4K: The team describe their documentary as “the most lifelike experience of being on Mars”
Some of the images include ‘black areas’ where there is no available data or image for that section – but the team tried to exclude those parts to create a ‘life-like view’.
The cameras were ‘top of the range’ on the rovers when they were first launched – 2003 for Spirit and Opportunity and 2011 for Curiosity.
However, unless the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is passing when the rovers send the pictures back to Earth – the speed is pretty slow.
The narrator in the video shared by ElderFox: “Curiosity can only send data directly back to earth at 32 kilo-bits per second.
“When the rover can connect to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we get more favorable speeds of 2 Megabytes per second.”.
As Mars is a pretty static planet with a very little movement among the rocks and soil, NASA found it made more sense to send pictures rather than video.
NASA said: “The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
“Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.”
NASA’s next Mars rover – Perseverance – is due to launch later this month and arrive on the Red Planet in February 2021.
That rover will include 23 different cameras – mainly for navigation, engineering and science purposes – but will be able to share stunning views in higher resolution.
Perseverance will also include a live video camera that will send ‘first-person’ footage back of the craft as it descends on to the surface of the Red Planet.