Mars in 3D

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2008 8:00 am

Regular readers know I love the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The camera takes fantastically high-res images of the Martian surface, and has done more to make Mars a real place in my mind than any spacecraft before it.

Regulars also know I love optical illusions as well as anaglyphs– two-color images that look 3D when you wear the red/green glasses.

Mars in 3D! Courtesy NASA/Univ. Arizona/HiRISE team

Put them all together, and you have the new HiRISE feature: Mars in awesome awesome awesome 3D. If you have the glasses (and you can find them online easily enough) you can look down into chasms, see mountains popping up at you, and almost feel the aeolian rippling of entrained sand dunes in channel floors.

This sort of thing is fun, but also provides a good scientific boost as well; you can actually get a sense of what you are seeing, instead of trying to interpret a flat projection. It might even help folks figure out the difference between a channel and a giant glass worm.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (17)

  1. Sigh… doesn’t anyone do two images side-by-side as a stereogram anymore? It doesn’t require headache-inducing glasses, and is in real color.

    Of course, the argument can be made that having to diverge your eyes past the focal point of the image you’re looking at can cause bigger headaches :) But it’s what I prefer, dangit!

  2. kuhnigget

    @ Carey:

    I still have a great book put out by the U.S. Government Printing Office, circa 1977, at the back of which is a slew of stereographic images taken by the Viking spacecraft. The book even came with a little stereogram viewer, although I always liked to merge the images “by eye,” by crossing my eyes and staring at them. I’m sure I presented a strange picture to my mom when she saw me trying to read a book cross-eyed.

    My favorite shot was a view taken from one of the landers, looking past one of the instrument booms and across the Martian plain. It really gives you a “you are there” experience. Way cool.

  3. Charles Boyer

    Off topic, but Michael Griffin has apparently gone rogue and is not co-operating with the Obama presidential transition team, going so far as to tell the leader of the PTT that she is not qualified to judge “his rocket program.”

    Griffin is also said to managing what NASA employees can tell the transition team and is trying to do the same with contractors. All of this revolves around his beloved Constellation program.

    This man needs to be fired…NOW.

  4. ND

    The Lowell Observatory had an installation of these images. These were blown up on to something like 10×5 feet screens and had the red/blue glasses for you to walk around and look. It was really cool. The sense of depth was a little exagerated given the angles the images were taken in but it did give you the urge to reach out and touch the features. I don’t know if they’re still there tho. So if you’re in the Flagstaff area, you might want to check them out.

  5. Cheyenne

    @Charles – Totally agree. Griffin fail. New leadership needed.

    I’m not sure you’d agree with this but I think new NASA mission/directive needed as well.

  6. Charles Boyer

    ^ I agree with the vision that Obama espoused later in the campaign, and that’s a pretty significant evolution of VSE.


    I have found two web-sites that have and display side-by-side stereogram images of scenery on Mars; check these out:

    Stereo Pictures from NASA Mars Landers

    Mars Spirit Rover Stereograms (N.B. Click on images for stereogram view).

  8. Skeptic Tim

    In place of red-blue pairs, more use could be made of images designed to reflect differing polarizations; and viewed with glasses having lenses polarized accordingly. I experimented with polarized 3D imaging for magnetometric and gravimetric maps in the ’80’s and ’90’s and found that they were very useful in geophysical data interpretation: colours were preserved adding yet another dimension to the map.

  9. I looked up the story I wrote for our website ( in the news, and thought I might as well put it here:

    (Tucson)Mars Phoenix Lander photos on display

    Though the Phoenix Lander on Mars is shutting down for the winter, photos it transmitted to Earth are on display at the Ward 6 City Council Office.

    Dr. Peter Smith is the principal investigator for the Phoenix Mars Mission, and says though the team has lost contact with the lander, they did get the time expected from it. Now, the public can look at some of the photos taken, some in 3-D, at the Ward 6 City Council Office near County Club and Speedway. Though the Phoenix team is analyzing data, for the next month, the photos will be on display, with the office open from 9AM until 5PM.

    Looking at the date of the post, I think it may have expired :(


  10. Elian Gonzalez

    Sigh….why does everyone who thinks they’re smarter than folks working on a science mission always spoon-clang about not having what they personally like?

    I think the anaglyphs are terrific, and as they weren’t on the HiRISE site before, who knows what other stuff might be released in the future?

  11. kuhnigget

    Elian, I didn’t read Carey’s statement as “spoon-clanging” and certainly not as an attempt to establish himself smarter than anyone…rather just a lighthearted comment.

    There’s enough huffing and puffing going on around here (myself, guilty as charged), let’s not start yet another tiff over an innocuous statement.

    Have a lovely day, and say hi to Fidel. :)

  12. Here is an article about a laser detection technology from Idaho National Laboratory that could be used to scout for signs of life on Mars.

  13. Buzz Parsec

    I for one welcome our new giant glass worm overlords.

    (Rats! Can’t find my 3-D glasses…)

  14. Tom

    @Carey: I agree, except I’d swap the two images so you would just cross your eyes instead. It’s much easier and less headache-inducing than diverging them.

  15. SHAMELESS PROMO: Both Peter Smith and Al McEwen (chief investigator for HiRise), and both at the University of Arizona will be guest speakers at SPACEFEST.

  16. HvP

    Here’s a tip. Anyone that has a “Photoshop” type of image editor on their computer can make a cross-eye stereogram out of the anaglyphs. Unfortunately, Windows Paint doesn’t have the following feature.

    You’ll need to split the image into the separate RGB channels, and then place the red and green channels side-by-side. You’ll need to experiment with which channel belongs on which side. One way the picture will pop out at you, but if you switch them the picture will look punched-in.

    One way will work if you cross your eyes to merge the two pictures, and the other way will work if you “look through” the pictures.

  17. Hmmmm…Mars in 3D…sounds like a catchy title. In fact, for anyone interested in more of these such images, there is a wonderful new book out this fall by Jim Bell called…”MARS 3D-A Rover’s-eye View of the Red Planet.” It comes with a built in red/blue viewer (sorry to those trying to read this cross-eyed) and is affordably priced whether giving as a gift to someone special or to oneself. Jim Bell should sound familiar to any Mars fans as he authored the magnificent “Postcards From Mars” a few years back. He is an Astronomer and planetary scientist and Professor at Cornell. He was also the host of this past fall’s AAS-DPS conference and just recently was elected/appointed/beknighted as the latest President of The Planetary Society. He is the leader of the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) color imaging team on the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers. Just a plug for another friend since by now, you should have all read “Duck! Look up in the sky” or whatever Phil’s new book is called!


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