12 July 2010

Microsoft goes to Mars

Posted by Ryan Anderson

Today, NASA and Microsoft announced a very cool new addition to Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope (WWT) program: Mars images! Yep, now you can use WWT to cruise around Mars and to view the planet with a handful of datasets, including 13,000 mind-blowingly high-resolution HiRISE images, and even more almost-as-high-resolution MOC images. There is also the standard MOLA colorized topography and a low-resolution approximately true color map.

It’s great to see all of this data being made available to the public! Of course, HiRISE images have been available though the HiRISE website all along, but they are so much more useful when they are map-projected and shown with all the other datasets. I do wish there was an option to show both MOC and HiRISE images on the same map. And hey, while I’m wishing, it would be nice if there were CTX images too, but the camera team for CTX is more stingy with their data than the HiRISE team.

The Mars viewer comes with some nifty pre-loaded tours of Mars, but at least on my computer, the images loaded almost too slowly to match up with the words and there were some buggy moments when multiple image layers interfered to form moire patterns.

In general, I find the interface for the program isn’t as intuitive as it could be. Maybe I’m just too used to using Google Earth’s Mars viewer, but I found the thumbnails along the top and the bottom to be much less user-friendly than the wireframe image outlines that you get in Google Earth. The menus that pop up when selecting guided tours were very flickery and difficult to read on my computer also.

Still, maybe the interface works well for others, and I’m certainly happy to see another easy-to-use way to view all of this data being made public. Just the fact that WWT has so many map-projected HiRISE and MOC images mosaicked together makes it a powerful tool, both for interested amateurs and actual Mars researchers.

You can download the program at this link. Check it out!