Fly over Mars!

By Phil Plait | March 12, 2010 1:30 pm

Via Emily at the Planetary Society blog comes this amazing animation, a three-dimensional flyover of Candor Chasma on Mars generated using HiRISE data.

Holy cow. And the timing of this video… will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Space
MORE ABOUT: Candor Chasma, HiRISE, Mars
ADVERTISEMENT

Comments (52)

Links to this Post

  1. Martian Eye Candy | March 12, 2010
  1. While this is awesome x infinity, it also exhibits my primary gripe about scientific visuals: It contains nothing that anyone on Earth can relate to in terms of scale or speed. How fast was this camera “flying”? How big are those mountains? What resolution data were used to assemble the terrain data, and how accurate is it and down to what scale does it remain accurate?

    I think this clip is long enough that they could have briefly super-imposed a scale reference (like a continent or country) or maybe a familiar building or earth mountain. It’s beautiful, but lacks any contextual references that would make it even more amazing.

  2. Tooner

    …or an LGM waving from atop a ridge.

    I was startled at the resemblance to the Mojave Desert. All that’s missing was a casino around the bend alongside I-15. Funny how those old Star Trek episodes shot out that way kind of got it right.

  3. Robert E

    “the camera is flying very roughly 100 meters above the ground at about 160 kilometers per hour” — but you only find that out on the Planetary Society blog, not YouTube.

    Only info on YouTube is “The spatial resolution is 1 meter for the altimetry data and 0.25 meters for the image data.” which really doesn’t help me get a perspective of scale.

  4. Thameron

    “will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?”

    No. No, they wont and I’d bet any amount you’d care to name on it. What mpg did cars get 25 years ago? What do they get now? How is the majority of electricity produced in the U.S? How close are we to solving the radiation shielding problem for extended space travel? 25 years? Talk about an act of purest unjustified optimism. In 25 years that child will have his or her brain directly connected to a supercomputer which will realistically simulate the Martian environment and any other planet anyone can think up.

  5. Sean

    will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?

    Answer: No.

    I agree with Thameron. I see no evidence that the US or any other country has a serious strategy for getting us to Mars in only a generation.

    My guess would be 75 to 100 years for any significant presence on Mars.

    That middle-school kid will have to start working now if she wants her grand-children to visit the plains of Mars.

    -S

  6. DaveS

    Agree. In 25 years the US MAY be going back to the moon. Definitely not farther, not with the meager work going on now, on the issue.

    Watching this, it strikes me as more likely, as Thameron says, that future generations will be satisfied with perfectly accurate simulations, rather than less-than-perfect pictures and movies of real people actually walking on Mars. The fact of actually having people there doesn’t seem to be as important, neither to the public nor to most current scientists, as having simulations and data, respectively. Few people really care if we actually go.

    Now a question about the simulation: is the Martian sky actually blue at the horizon?

  7. David Vanderschel

    For me, this is a far better way of giving a 3D impression from such photo data than by displaying stereo images (such as anaglyph, cross-eyed, polarized, viewer, or whatever). Furthermore, I think that, with some modest pattern recognition capability, stereo pairs can be rendered into simulated flyover animations (though not as elaborate as this one). I wish folks would do that instead of producing anaglyph images or stereo pairs. Note that, in Google Earth, you can already get such a flyover simulation from its satellite images. (It is not perfect, but it represents the gross relative elevation data adequately.)

  8. Hell yeah! I love the optimism. I can see the pace of space exploration accelerating with so many players entering the game (India, China, Japan, etc.). I don’t expect to actually “be at the stick” of a Mars mission but being alive to experience the first one would be great.

  9. Canada Jeff

    I think I saw Bigfoot!

  10. cope

    Well, no middle school students in my district will be able to watch this in school because YouTube is blocked by our school network. It would have to be a homework assignment.

  11. Chip

    BA wrote:
    “Will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?”

    Yes.

    25 to 35 years. Absolutely. Its entirely possible based on what I know of aviation and aerospace history.

    (Naysayers and those here who said “no” are not invited and BTW – who says its a middle school kid from the USA?)

  12. T_U_T

    just restart the project orion, and it will be like 15 years not 25 or 35.

  13. Mig

    Can anything be flown in the thin atmosphere of Mars? Martian winds can only support the very tiniest grains of sediment or sand, right? What are the aerodynamic hurdles? They seem somewhat daunting.

  14. BJN

    Why would a middle school kid who has a killer synthetic reality system want to actually take a long, dangerous trip to a cold, dry world when he/she could have pretty much the same experience without leaving home?

  15. T_U_T

    Why would a middle school kid who has a killer synthetic reality system want to actually take a long, dangerous trip to a cold, dry world when he/she could have pretty much the same experience without leaving home?

    Because the reality is real. While an illusion is not. 😉

  16. Andrew

    Is it stated anywhere that the heights are to scale? It looks like exaggerated relief to me, but I could be wrong.

  17. Chip

    NASA has researched Mars aircraft designs, computer models and test prototypes. Here is just one reference:
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/research/technology-onepagers/mars-airplane.html

    They are robotic and very glider-like with long and/or wide wings. These Mars aircraft are designed for Mars flight, not Earth flight, though a small test model has already been flown here on Earth.

    It is actually feasible that an specially designed aircraft that carries a pilot could function specifically within the Martian environment. Takeoff and landing is also a design issue as there are no runways. However the Martian gravity is also lighter and it is possible that a Mars aircraft could reduce speed into a very very slow short landing touchdown or even hover to land in a light headwind. There have been aircraft that could do this on Earth and the physics on Mars is similar. The motorized test model that flew some years ago popped a chute to “land”. Prefabricated aircraft launch ramps could be placed at specific locations on Mars to accommodate takeoffs on exploratory flights.

  18. I’m afraid not.

    Texas’ Board of Education just finished gutting education for about the next full generation. So while there might be a young person piloting a flyer on Mars, they’ll likely be speaking Hindi or Mandarin, rather than English.

  19. @15: YouTube info says “There is no vertical exaggeration.”

  20. Astrofiend

    Very nice. I would like to see one with dust and general vision obscuration put in though, to see what it would ACTUALLY look like (or closer to) if doing the flyby. It would look amazing having these mountains loom up out of the dust and haze as you approach them.

  21. wtlloyd

    I am re-reading the KSR Mars Trilogy, and this is really timely.

    I think all the comments avoid the reality that scientific/engineering progress is NOT linear.

    The first use of steel construction in commercial ships duplicated the existing wood construction, but in iron/steel. Wood planking was still the practice, on iron frames.

    It was only when the new materials capabilities were utilized in construction in ways appropriate to their inherent qualities that shipbuilding jumped into a new quantum level.

    When the future arrives, you’ll be amazed how close yesterday seems….

  22. Jamey

    Of course, maybe if NASA quit telling contractors “Go ahead and start on the project, we’ll write up a contract once you’re done for a nice fat paycheck, and let you charge us hugely for any cost over-runs, and not penalize you for screwing up and not delivering on time. Oh, and if we have to cancel the contract, we’re not going to bother putting any clauses about that in the contract ahead of time, so you can make our lawyers’ paychecks with fighting you over how much it’s going to be to get out of it.”

    $9B+ over run on something that 1) had already been done, 2) was supposed to be just scaling up already-existing equipment [adding a segment to the SRBs from the Shuttle System, using the Main Engines from the Shuttle Orbiter for the Ares V, scaling up an Apollo capsule from 3 people to 4]…

    I know the Federal Government and the General Accounting Agency refuse to even *CONSIDER* holding to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles that they hold businesses and corporations to, but dammnnnn….

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    This would make an awesome screen saver … 8)

    “Magnificent desolation” here too.

    The bones of the landscape are laid bare and are intriguing and beautiful in themselves but there’s no water, no (visible) ice, no vegetation and no body home – yet.

    The more I see this, the more I imagine how it might look if Mars ever gets terraformed.

    The Bad Astronomer asked :

    … will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?

    I think that’s very hard to predict & say. History can take some pretty strange and unpredictable turns and there are so many variables at play in terms of technology, funding, politics, other world events that may interfere or promote it in diffeent ways, etc …

    It could happen but then it could not happen & I’m not even game to put percentage odds on those respective options. I certainly hope that it *does* come to pass esp. for a Western astronaut ! 😉

    However, if it is to happen then I fear we are probably on the wrong path now. I don’t agree with Obama’s cancellations regarding space exploration policy and so if it is to happen thing’s will need to change. :-(

    @ 21. artbot Says:

    @15: YouTube info says “There is no vertical exaggeration.”

    I find that very hard to believe. Not saying that’s necessarily wrong but it sure looks vertically exaggerated to me. 😉

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    That “Magnificent desolation” quote above referring to Buzz Aldrin’s famous description of the Lunar landscape natch.

    Just in case folks didn’t already realise. 😉

    Needless to say,
    It need not be said,
    Yet so many needlessly say it.
    Is that because its NOT needless to say?
    So therefore we just have to say it? 😉

    PS. Is it just me or were there very few – if any – craters visible in that animation?

  25. While I appreciate Phil’s sentiment, the cost/benefit of manned v. unmanned exploration of the solar system is so massively against manned exploration that I hope it remains off the table. We can learn 1,000X more with unmanned exploration just due to the cost factor. For a human, Mars is as inhospitable as the moon and 99 percent of the mission cost and complexity is solely to keep the humans passengers from dying — and to get them back alive. It’s a vanity project of the worst degree. All the $$$ used to get 4 people safely to Mars and back is that much $$$ not available for real exploration missions and research. We will end up knowing less — not more — as a result of a manned Mars mission.

  26. MadScientist

    [OT]: Texas is doomed again Phil. But I’m still betting you’ll be ever optimistic about the Loon Star State.

    @Doug Watts: Human space exploration was never about sensibility. People have wanted to do it just to see if they can and to see strange worlds that no one else had seen before. The truth is that there’s not much of interest out there compared to what’s on earth and we can learn so much more by sending machines, but saying such things to those afflicted with the dream of space travel is futile – all they hear is “blah blah blah, can’t be done, blah blah blah”.

  27. PAN
  28. 14. T_U_T Says: “just restart the project orion, and it will be like 15 years not 25 or 35.”

    I assume you mean the “real” Project Orion, not the one just killed.

    – Jack

  29. 26. Messier Tidy Upper Says: “@15: YouTube info says ‘There is no vertical exaggeration.’
    “I find that very hard to believe. Not saying that’s necessarily wrong but it sure looks vertically exaggerated to me.”

    Remeber that the gravity on Mars is only 1/3 of Earth, thus the “angle of repose” of any pile of dirt will be much steeper. The moutains on the moon look a lot rounder because of erosion.

    – Jack

  30. Click on my name for something that Austin Meyer, creator of the X-Plane flight simulator wrote about flying on Mars. Turns out it’s not impossible, but it sure is interesting. Oh, apologies for all the caps. Austin tends to shout a bit 😉

  31. Mmmm … Sand duney goodness. 😀

  32. Elmar_M

    This video was really great and I liked watching it.
    However it is clearly missing something: A horizon
    Mars is quite a bit smaller than earth, so any horizon would be much closer even. However in this video the viewing distance seemed almost infinite. I do understand how this came about and why the artist chose to dismiss doing a real horizon (it can be a real pain in the butt to get right and depending on the original data it might even be so difficult that it would not be worth the effort).
    Anyway that is my biggest critizism.
    To all the Constellation- whiners here: Constellation would have never brought us anywhere. It was late, it was way over cost and even with the moderate budget INCREASE(!) that NASA got, it would have been completely impossible to do. No, our first goals should be closer to home. First, get the tech right. New engines, new powersources, new TPS, inflatable habitats (like (Bigelow makes them), new materials, etc, etc. Then go places. Until then, lets just try to keep our previous investments (e.g. ISS) afloat until we get a return on them and that can be done much cheaper using commercial options. That again leaves NASA with enough budget to research all the stuff I mentioned above.

  33. T_U_T

    I assume you mean the “real” Project Orion, not the one just killed.

    of course. Chemical propulsion is not going to get us to mars nor anywhere beyond short visits to moon.

  34. Radwaste

    “Chemical propulsion is not going to get us to mars nor anywhere beyond short visits to moon.”

    Obviously you missed noting the size of Cassini.

    But people bleating, “It’s just not safe!” will hold us to an infinite number of video games, pointing all the while to how much we know.

    It’s just like trying to get somebody playing World of Warcraft outside for a change. They’re perfectly content indoors, pretending that what they are doing isn’t growing attached to their chair.

    Small lesson: Where are the names of the designers of the Bell X-1 in the record books? It was Chuck Yeager who flew the plane, who was the first to do something no one else had done before.

  35. T_U_T

    Obviously you missed noting the size of Cassini.

    Cassini was a manned mission ? wt …..?

    It’s just like trying to get somebody playing World of Warcraft outside for a change. They’re perfectly content indoors, pretending that what they are doing isn’t growing attached to their chair.

    Not all people are like that.

  36. I’m curious, based on the distance between frames and the speed of the video, how ‘fast’ we would be going to see this.

  37. andy

    Holy cow. And the timing of this video… will some kid in middle school watch this video, wonder what it would be like to really do this, and then, in 25 more years, be sitting at the stick of a Martian flyer?

    More likely they will think something more along the lines of the comment that’s currently the most recent on that YouTube video as I write this…

    While technically impressive this is one of the most boring animations I’ve seen so far

    No sense of wonder in space anymore…

  38. Floyd

    If the vertical scale of the simulation isn’t exaggerated, any future Mars astronauts will need mountain climbing equipment. The simulated mountains remind me of the mountains in the Southwest, without the vegetation of course.

  39. oldebabe

    A fun video, yes, an interesting endeavor, yes, artistic licence, yes, thanks, but. Well, all those tall, spikey mountain tops and ridges (especially at the beginning of the video)… and valleys that look weirdly as if giant bulldozers had plowed through and left their tracks… to my unscientific eyes it doesn’t look much like the pics I’ve seen from Rover, Spirit, et al or imagined from glimpses and descriptions of what the Mars landscape, that we have seen so far, looks like or could look like. A LOT of exaggeration here, IMO, not just vertical.

  40. Electro

    somewhere else, it is a romantic notion.

    I hope so Phil.

    Shaun

  41. Gary

    Wow, some of those places look as if they have been strip mined by huge machines. This video is beautiful, I wish more people would appreciate accomplishments like the exploration of Mars. I hope that one day some people can see that world’s surface with their own eyes, and I’ll be happy for them no matter what country they come from.

  42. Denver7M

    Fantastic vid Phil, thanks for posting it. What occurred to me while watching this is that it’s a hell of an opportunity for a MicroSoft Flight Sim add-on. If they could model Mars, maybe not to this resolution, but good enough to get the feel of it, they could offer it to people who are flight sim enthusiasts and space geeks like me. They could establish a main base and flights could be arranged to supply remote scientific research stations all over the place. The return flights could be bringing back samples and such for return to Earth. Or, you could simply joyride randomly. How fun would that be?

  43. DaveS

    TUT says: “Not all people are like that.”

    Increasing, all young people ARE like that. And their elders are so worried about money, except for war, that they never do anything OTHER than war to capture young imaginations. As Andy noted, youboob comments reflect the young sentimentality: “If you don’t get to kill something, it’s boring.” Look at the relative popularity of FPS games to flight simulator games.

    Contrasting that with myself, who at the age of 6 watched Neil and Buzz do their thing, almost immediately knew that I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, and steadfastly pursued that right through college. Ask a modern teenager what they want to be, and few of them will say “engineer” and the ones who do will be thinking of computers, not lift and thrust.

    Chip takes a cue from aviation history about where we might be in 35 years. To that I say that the age of aviation is coming to a close. This is the information age, where the only real advances in aviation in the last few decades have been *applying* the information revolution to aircraft, like glass cockpits, stealth and fly-by-wire artificial stability. We’re still flying in pretty much the same technology our parents did, other than that. In fact, our parents could fly in a supersonic airliner, and looked forward to that technology becoming widespread and common, but alas, that pinnacle of airliner technology has gone the way of the clipper ship, and instead we have on-demand movies, in-flight-wi-fi, more gigantic planes, but smaller seats on our fly-by-wire, glass cockpit, subsonic fanjet airliners nearly identical in aerodynamics and performance to those from 40 years ago.

    Even the desire to fly has been on a steady decline for several decades.

    Myself, soon after the aviation industry collapsed in the 80’s, in response to the USSR going down,while I was in college getting my Aero-E degree, I realized the age of aviation was over, and I migrated to the information industry, becoming a successful telecom software engineer.

    If you can guess what the NEXT revolution past the information revolution is going to be, and you have the cojones for it, you could be the world’s first quadrillionaire.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 38. T_U_T Says:

    “Obviously you missed noting the size of Cassini.” Cassini was a manned mission ? wt..?

    Hmm .. I don’t think RadWaste (#37.) ever said that Cassini was manned – let’s see :

    37. Radwaste Says:

    “Chemical propulsion is not going to get us to mars nor anywhere beyond short visits to moon.”

    Obviously you missed noting the size of Cassini.

    Size – not manned – chemical propulsion launched Cassini to Saturn. Chemical rockets launched the Voyagers & the NewHorizons to Pluto and beyond.

    I think that was the point being made.

    But people bleating, “It’s just not safe!” will hold us to an infinite number of video games, pointing all the while to how much we know. … Small lesson: Where are the names of the designers of the Bell X-1 in the record books? It was Chuck Yeager who flew the plane, who was the first to do something no one else had done before.

    Yes, exactly! Well said RadWaste. :-)

    As a society we have generally become incredibly risk-averse, incredibly timid of doing extraordinary things and launching extraordinary adventures & I fear we are very much the worse for it.

    Virtual Reality & spending your life online playing games is great fun but its not really, well, real. :-(

    Having robots on Mars & the other planets is great but it isn’t quite the same as having people there.

    Who remembers the name of the first robot spaceprobe on the Moon? Who really cares about them? Who remembers where they were when the first robot craft landed on the Moon or on Mars or Venus?

    (Very few if any hands go up in the audience.)

    Now who remembers when men first landed on the Moon – who can name the starring astronauts and – if you were alive back then – who recalls seeing them walk on the Moon for the first time?

    (Everybody in the audience has their hand up.)

    I hope we change direction and do get to explore – in person with people – again. Ideally ASAP.

  45. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 35. Elmar_M Says:

    To all the Constellation- whiners here: Constellation would have never brought us anywhere. It was late, it was way over cost and even with the moderate budget INCREASE(!) that NASA got, it would have been completely impossible to do.

    Funny you say that because they’d just started building & testing the Constellation & it was the one plan out of countless many that have been proposed post-Apollo that looked like it was finally starting to actually, tangibly *HAPPEN*.

    Or at least, it looked like it was getting off the ground at last and, after much time and effort had already been put into it, before Obama in an unforgivable act of short-sighted stupidity and waste cancelled it and set human, esp. American, space exploration back another twenty years. :-(

    Now we’re thrown right back to the drawing board again – back to having a lot of vague plans and promises but nothing actually being built or tested. NASA had a plan –Constellation was almost ready to go – they just had to fund it and get behind it properly and it could’ve taken us to the Moon and more well within the decade.

    Now I don’t expect to see any progress – at least not from the Western world – when it comes to people in space for many decades to come. Which is, IMHON, a disgraceful and depressing betrayal by Obama of the aerospace and wider US and western free world community. Hope and change? Yeah right. :roll:

    Commercial private space agencies such as Virgin or Rutan or Musk’s outfits would have already got off the ground if they were ever going to at this stage methinks. I hope I’m wrong but I’ve heard it all before when it comes to planned private commerical space groups and I will believe they can achieve something ONLY when I see it. :-(

    I’m afraid that Obama will most likely go down in history as a one-term absolute disaster because of this idiotic decision among many other reasons – he raised such hopes only to dash them. I suspect we may find “all-talk” Obama has turned a whole generation of young people off politics and especially his side of it and guaranteed the Republicans many terms in office. And I’m a pro-science, progressive left winger politically For What Its Worth. :-(

  46. Elmar_M

    Funny you say that because they’d just started building & testing the Constellation & it was the one plan out of countless many that have been proposed post-Apollo that looked like it was finally starting to actually, tangibly *HAPPEN*.

    Not even close, by far not. In no way close. And that even with a budget increase (which they got, because, as you might not know, NASAs budget was not cut, it was increased!).
    Some people wanted to make you believe that they were further along, with the launch of Ares 1X. But that vehicle had as good as nothing in common with Ares1 (IIRC Buz Aldrin called it “a hoax”). It would have still been many years and budget overruns until the thing would have been ready. AresV was even longer down the road and Orion was not ready yet either.
    None of them had even passed preliminary design review yet.

    Commercial private space agencies such as Virgin or Rutan or Musk’s outfits would have already got off the ground if they were ever going to at this stage methinks. I hope I’m wrong but I’ve heard it all before when it comes to planned private commerical space groups and I will believe they can achieve something ONLY when I see it

    What makes you think that? So far I have seen only evidence that they can make it. Falcon 9, which is in fact a real prototype of the very Falcon 9 that will bring crews to the ISS,
    had a successful pad test today. Sure that may not mean a successful launch yet, but breaking stuff during tests is OK, IMHO. Still there is ACTUAL hardware. Ares 1X in contrast had NOTHING in common with the real Ares1. It was not even meant to reach orbit!
    Burt Rutans SS1 and SS2 are only suborbital. So they cant be really compared to the others. In that sense you are right. But, they will open space/microgravity research to a much larger group of people. They have already proven that they can do it, more than once. They have the funding and there is no reason why they would not be able to do it again.
    But, you failed to mention the ULA. Delta and Atlas rockets have been successfully delivering payloads for the military into orbit for many years now. They have a proven track record. They are also “commercials”, but people always let them conveniently fall under the table.

  47. T_U_T

    Size – not manned – chemical propulsion launched Cassini to Saturn. Chemical rockets launched the Voyagers & the NewHorizons to Pluto and beyond.

    a few ton at most and several year cruise time. That is going to work for our robots. But not for humans. And I was talking about humans. Not about our robots.

  48. Andrey

    Why are the peaks of every hill white?

  49. systd

    you can do the same fliyng the google extra fliyng simulator that is included in it by doing crtl+a.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

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

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+