Friday, June 21, 2024

The Newest Maps of Mars - in 3D

animated GIF zooming into Olympus Mons on the Gras Mars Map

The National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences has released a 3D interactive map of Mars, using imagery captured from the Tianwen-1 interplanetary mission. The Gras Mars Map allows you to explore Mars using the navigation tools that you are familiar with using from exploring Earth on Google Maps.

The Gras Mars Map uses imagery captured by the 2020 China National Space Administration's mission to Mars. The Tianwen-1 mission included an orbiter, which spent several months scanning and imaging the surface of Mars to refine the target landing zone for the Zhurong rover. I assume that the Gras Mars Map uses the imagery captured from this orbiter (you can view a panorama of the surface of Mars captured by the Zhurong rover here).

an animated GIF panning across a Mars crater in 3D

You can explore Mars in even more detail using the AeroBrowser. The AreoBrowser allows you to explore over 7000 Martian locations in full 3D. The map uses data from the HiRISE camera (on-board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) and the HRSC (on-board ESA’s Mars Express) to create full 3D terrain model of locations visited by NASA's Mars rovers on the red planet.

To explore the 3D terrain models on AreoBrowser select the 3D Models option on the site's home page. You can then browse through and explore in 3D any of the current locations featured on AreoBrowser. While in one of the 3D terrain models you can navigate by using your keyboard arrow keys to move the camera. You can rotate the camera by holding your mouse's right-hand button. Zoom in and out using your '+' or '-' keys or by using a mouse scroll wheel.

an animated GIF zooming down to the surface of Mars using the Global CTX Mosaic of Mars
If the Chinese Martian place-name labels on the Gras Mars Map are a little confusing then you might prefer exploring Mars using the Global CTX Mosaic of Mars interactive map. Caltech's Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization's map has been created using a 5.7 terapixel global image of Mars created from 110,000 individual images. Images which were captured by the Context Camera (CTX) aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The Global CTX Mosaic of Mars contains a number of handy links to help inter-planetary explorers avoid becoming lost on the red planet. Clicking on the provided links will automatically pan and zoom the map to some of the planet's most memorable topographic features and to some of the locations on Mars which have been traversed by NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance Rovers.

Last year NASA called the mosaic "the highest-resolution global image of the Red Planet ever created". NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been capturing imagery of Mars since 2006. This new mosaic of this imagery provides a resolution of around 25 square meters per pixel. The previous highest resolution of Mars at a global scale was 100 meters per pixel.

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