15 December 2010

What do you want to see on Mars? Tell HiRISE!

Posted by mohi

The most powerful camera ever sent to another planet wants to know what you’d like to see.

HiRISE, dubbed “the people’s camera,” solicits public suggestions when deciding where to shoot. A team from the University of Arizona presented HiRISE, or the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, on Tuesday (ED23A-0712) with the only poster I’ve seen to pass out 3D glasses.


An image of the Martian surface near Nili Fossae trough, captured by HiRISE. Courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

HiRISE orbits Mars aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Since it took to the skies in 2006, it has sent back 17,000 images. They’ve received nearly 3,000 public suggestions; of these they’ve taken about 200, including requests to image dune seas, lava flows, gullies and impact craters.

Images from HiRISE are both enormous (up to 20,000 by 120,000 pixels) and stunning, capturing the Martian surface with a precision we’ve never seen before. HiRISE pictures have been printed in glossy, photo-loving magazines, such as
National Geographic and Sky and Telescope. They have been incorporated into tools such as Google Mars (Google Maps for the Red Planet) and the WorldWide Telescope, a virtual telescope accessible from your computer.

At the HiRISE operations center in at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, raw data from the camera is uncompressed, calibrated and processed in to photographs. The processing is automated, but university students check each picture or “image product” for errors before releasing. Once a month a new, captioned image, is released through their website.

The exceptional detail captured by HiRise does more than bring the public stunning images of our Martian neighbor. Researchers, who are pretty-picture enthusiasts like the rest of us, can study the pictures to discover more about the planet’s geologic history.

Next on the horizon? NASA and the European Space Agency are jointly developing a new camera, the High-resolution Stereo Color Imager (HiSCI), which will launch with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in January 2016. HiSCI will bring us color flyover movies from Mars. Perhaps, several AGU meetings from now, we’ll see 3-D movies from Mars–the next
Avatar experience?

Meanwhile, enjoy HiRISE and suggest a target!

–Danielle Venton is a science communication graduate student at UC Santa Cruz