So Who Wants a Billion Pixels of Mars Goodness?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 25 2013 10:30 AM

Gigapixel Mars

Curiosity rover picture of Mars
Rock, dust, and sand: just like home. If you're a Dejah Thoris.

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This is pretty nifty: Some folks at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory took 900 high-res pictures from the Curiosity rover and created a pan-and-scan mosaic of Mars that has—get this—1.3 billion pixels!

Oddly, I can’t put it here (though there is a scaled-down version on the JPL Photojournal site), but I made a couple of screen shots you can see. It’s fun to scan around and then zoom in on something that looks interesting. A few tourist attractions are listed, too, like a series of holes zapped into the ground by the powerful laser on the rover, used to determine the chemical composition of the samples. Other spots listed include a rock shaped like a bird (kinda), distant Mt. Sharp (Curiosity’s eventual goal), and the original rover landing site.

Laser-zapped holes in the Martian surface.
Laser-zapped holes in the Martian surface

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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It’s a fun way to spend a little time, tooling around the red planet. Actually, as I was fooling with the mosaic, a weird sensation swept over me momentarily; the whole dang region is covered in red dust (which is mostly iron oxide, or rust), and you really get a sense of that when you poke around. Just for a second, it felt somewhat like being there.

Also, the rock formations look familiar, if you’ve ever spent any time in a dry stream bed. The arrangement of the rocks, the flattened outcroppings … it reminds me of a day I spent in a dry stream bed outside of Roswell, N.M., shooting some scenes for Bad Universe.

Funny how much a small, red, and distant planet with only 1 percent of our air can suddenly remind me of home. For a sufficiently broad definition of “home,” I suppose. Still, if you live in Arizona, Mars might look a lot like what you see out your window some days …

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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