5.7-terapixel global map of Mars zooms right down to crater-scale
If you’re looking for some Red Planet real estate, there’s a new tool that could help you pick out the very best spot. Caltech scientists have created a nearly complete global map of Mars at an extremely high resolution of 5 m (16.4 ft) per pixel.
The image itself is an impressive feat of engineering. It’s a mosaic of 110,000 individual images snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) over its 17-year career mapping Mars, capturing 99.5% of the planet’s surface. The whole thing is made up of over 5.7 trillion pixels, each one representing an area of just 5 m, marking a resolution 20 times higher than the clearest map previously available.
And the experience of using it is incredible. It starts as a 3D globe that users can spin around, before picking something that looks like a dark streak or bright ring and zooming in. As you get closer, craters, canyons, cliffs, mountains, dunes and even individual rocks start to come into focus. You can flip the view from top-down to side-on, so it looks like you’re standing right on the Martian surface taking in the sights.
If you want to visit the highlights, the map has some handy shortcuts at the bottom. You can pop in to see the landing sites of rovers like Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance, with the latter two showing the paths they’ve traveled across the surface. You can size up Olympus Mons, the largest mountain on Mars (and the entire Solar System, for that matter), or dive into Valles Marineris, a canyon system 10 times longer and five times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon.
The majority of the map was stitched together using a feature-matching algorithm that aligned adjacent images and blended overlapping areas, to form a seamless global map. That said, about 13,000 of the images had to be stitched manually, a painstaking process that took the team three years.
The end result is a high resolution Mars map that can be useful and inspiring for everyone, from scientists to schoolchildren.
The 3D viewer can be accessed from the Caltech website.