HiRISE!

Contributed by
Nov 29, 2006
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Update: As Emily points out in the comments below, these are not the latest images, and will not be updated. Go to the HiROC site for more images. I will also note that their big images are in JPG 2000 format, and they recommend using ExpressView. I installed it and it's messing up my PC! So install with caution.

With the news from Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) looking bleaker every day, you might want to take a look at some fantastic news from MRO: the folks who work on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera have created an online image viewer.

And lemme just say, Holy Haleakale!

This. Site. ROCKS.

The camera's full name is the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, and they ain't kidding. The resolution is simply incredible. Each image pixel represents 55 centimeters (20 inches) on the martian surface! Half a meter!

Take a look at this one; it's Cerberus Fossae (image TRA_000827_1875), a trough on Mars:

That's the whole HiRISE image, but at drastically reduced scale: the original image I downloaded at full res was 30 megabytes (!) and was 11852 x 9444 pixels (!!). It took several minutes to download. The image I'm displaying here has been reduced in dimension by a factor of about 25 in each direction (that's over 600 in area), and further compressed as a JPG.

So if that's the low-res version, what's the high-res look like? Well, here is a tiny subsection:

The original picture is so frakking big I lost track of where I got this subsection. Somewhere like a third of the way in from the left. This image is also JPG compressed; click it for the uncompressed version. You can see rocks and wind ripples in the dust (I love that part). It's still hard to get the scale of this, so here is yet another subsection with just some of the rocks in it, blown up so you can see the pixels:

Remember, those pixels are half a meter across. The rocks in the image aren't much bigger than what you can see in some gardens. I see glacier-dropped granite blocks far bigger than that all over northern California! The ripples in the image are spaced a meter or two apart, like what you might see at the beach.

WOW.

These pictures are beyond superb. They are high art. And it gets better! On the HiRISE site, you can pan and zoom in on the images. This is really slick, and fun to do. It's like Google maps, for Mars! They have lots of different terrain (hmmm, we may need a different word for that) like craters, troughs, plains, and some very nifty layering near the north pole.

And maybe even coolest (which is saying a lot) they have a full map of the planet at the bottom which you can pan and zoom, and the positions of the HiRISE images are labeled.

Fan - freaking - tastic. Coolest thing I've seen in ages.

And it just gets better; they'll add more images as they come in. They'll only be mapping 2% of the surface of Mars, but that's going to add up to a vast amount of data. When the high-res data came back from MGS, the scientists literally could not keep up with the data flow. A lot of amateur Marsophiles found interesting and scientifically valuable phenomena in the images. The same thing will happen here, guaranteed. So start looking!