By Phil Plait | November 29, 2006 11:52 pm

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.


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!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (27)

Links to this Post

  1. A Ler…-- Rastos de Luz | November 30, 2006
  2. Microsiervos | November 30, 2006
  1. Rick Johnson

    You didn’t mention the Opportunity landing site images showing the parachute, backshell, heat shield and the lander in Eagle crater as well as the entire area Opportunity has explored.



  2. Remarkable site. Will they be adding this imagery to World Wind Mars? I certainly hope so.

    Rick Johnson, that’s amazing. I had seen the images of Opportunity at Victoria Crater, but never the ones you mention.

  3. Magnus

    You’re right, these images are great. Just out of curiosity, what are we actually wathing? To a complete non-expert like me it looks like an old river that has dried out. Is that correct?

  4. Chip

    Wow! I’m bookmarking the HiRISE site!

  5. Very cool. Definitely going on my bookmark list.

  6. Daffy

    That gets a 10.0 on my Wow-o-Meter!!!!!

  7. ioresult

    Google has a maps site with mars data from the MOLA, MOC and THEMIS instruments. Let’s hope they’ll also add HiRISE with that.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    Wow! Dude! I think I can see my house,,,oh, wait, no, that’s just MY bad Dogs,,,

    GAry 7

  9. 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!

    Phil, you sound like you don’t know about mars.google.com.

    It doesn’t have HiRISE’s resolution, but its maps combine images from lots of data sets, plus named features, and it’s mighty handy for touring Mars.

  10. Magnus, this is a trough in an ancient rift valley. My guess is that it’s a collapse feature, sort of like a fault (though Mars doesn’t have plate tectonics).

    Bill, I’ve fiddled with the Google Mars site, but this one just has the phenomenal resolution. If Google adds these images then it’ll be even better, but until then this has my vote. :-)

  11. RAF

    There needs to be an alternative to the BIG FILE SIZE of these images…

    Some of us are “stuck” with dial-up, ya know.

    But from what I have seen, words really can not convey just how amazing this is.

  12. Just a warning — the images at http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/HiRISE/hirise_images/ are more than a month old already, and it’s my understanding that no more images are going to be added to this particular site, which was developed as sort of a Band-Aid until the HiRISE team gets their own “Zoomify” software up and running. If you want to see the newest images, go to the HiRISE Operations Center website at http://hiroc.lpl.arizona.edu/.

    There’s no alternative to big file size if you want to enjoy the details in these incredible images. Some of the latest ones are over a Gigabyte in size! I wonder what they spend on hosting…

  13. Garrett

    On Google Maps I can’t even make out my house. This is much better. Though I still can’t see my house.

  14. I was fooling around looking at the images, and realized Emily is right! I will update the blog entry now.

  15. Will. M.

    I’m going to send this site address to the folks I know who still think spending money on space exploration is a waste of the government’s science budget (and their tax money), and to those few Creationists (who still speak to me). I simply cannot believe that these folks would remain unawed by these pix of a planet which is clearly at least as old as the solar system and certainly as old as Earth. I also wonder how the Creationists fix the age of the “6000 year old Earth” vs the REST of the solar system’s planets, given that the Bible doesn’t seem to mention them…

  16. bearcub

    Stunning pictures. Well worth my share of tax money.

    These hi-res images are going to make it hard for *certain* people to keep insisting on “transport tubes” all over Mars. Of course, they’ll just claim that NASA blew them up.

  17. Irishman

    Emily Lakdawalla said:
    >There’s no alternative to big file size if you want to enjoy the details in these incredible images.

    Sure there is – cut them into a bunch of tiny pics, like Phil’s above. Of course, that makes viewing all the detail a lot more complicated, but it does reduce the individual file size.

  18. tacitus

    Anyone found any rusty machine parts or ruined fortifications yet…. 😉

  19. Ted

    That is absolutely phenomenal and takes my breath away.

  20. Timothy Reed

    “These pictures are beyond superb.”

    You’re welcome. I’ll step up and take a measure of credit for the results. After spending three and a half years of my life developing HiRISE and personally installing and aligning every one of the imager’s optics, it’s rewarding to have both the scientific community and the lay community enthralled and excited by the initial small sample of what will be a vast wealth of areological data.

    – Timothy Reed
    HiRISE Optical Integration Team

  21. Corey

    Timothy – groundbreaking work. Your instrument is making history every second.

    Incidentally, if you look at the righthand section of the Cerberus Fossae trench, you can see a series of parallel dunes in the bottom of the trench that are exactly the same as the Hoagland “worms”. Except this is more obviously concave because of the view angle. Comparing the two makes it really obvious what they are.

  22. Irishscribe

    I am just in awe. Mr. Reed–congradulations and thank you, the achievement of getting such a wonderful tool into orbit around Mars is one that leaves me speechless with admiration. I can’t wait for the day when a similar camera is sent to the Moon. Then we will be able to see the Apollo hardware in situ, and once and for all silence those annoying Moon Hoax Conspiracy headcases!

  23. Stevo

    I’ll just add my WOW! & thanks to all theothers .

    Well done, Mr Reed, well done. Thanks too Phil for bringing this to our attention.

    This is science, exploration and America at its best.

  24. Stevo

    BTW. Putting that in context, I’m an Aussie who has been critical of a lot of what America has done in the world lately. This sort of thing is what you do so well and deserve to be very proud of.

    This sort of marvellous mission and achievement contributes positively to the world and shows America in a really great perspective. I only wish you did more of it.

    More power (and money) to you! 😀

    PS. Looking forward to the Shuttle launch too. Another area where you do indeed have the right stuff.

  25. Just an update to let you all know that we here at HiRISE have been updating the HiRISE Image viewer site after every HIRISE Image release. It’s true that there was a brief time when we were not updating the site, but we have been releasing new images for a while now. Check back and take a look! (http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/HiRISE/hirise_images/)


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar