Thursday, February 15, 2007

Maps of Mars

As a souvenir for myself when travelling, I used to collect topographical maps of the of the places that I had visited. In the era before, this offered a great opportunity to continue the trip after coming back home.

Now, I guess I will never travel to Mars. But at least, I may have soon the opportunity to get detailed topographical maps of the red planet - that's what I learned today when browsing the German news magazine Spiegel-Online.

A sheet of the smallest-scale topographical map available for Mars. It shows a region called Iani Chaos on the scale 1:50 000 with contour lines only 50 meters apart. (Source: ESA)

This map was created by a team of planetologists at the Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin and cartographers at the Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin, using data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera HRSC on board the ESA probe Mars Express.

Mars Express is in orbit around Mars since December 2003. The camera has been designed by the FU Berlin group and developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and it is mapping the entire planet in full colour and with a resolution of about 10 metres, going down to a resolution of two metres for selected regions. Since it has a stereoscopic view, it also allows to reconstruct the profile of the surface. Here, you can find much more details about the camera and how it works.

When this cartography project will be finished, the "Topographic Image Map Mars 1:200, 000" will cover the complete surface of the red planet in 10,372 individual sheets. At least, the future astronauts exploring Mars won't get lost!

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  1. If you want to fly around Mars, Earth, Moon, Jupiter, this program is pretty cool:

    Sadly, I think it only works under windows. :(

  2. nice post :-)

    I think men should try to explore Venus...

  3. I guess these maps completely kill that "face on Mars" thing from several years ago. ;-)

    And I agree with Bee...

  4. At least, the future astronauts exploring Mars won't get lost!

    Since presumably astronauts will precede a GPS system for Mars, how will they do this?

    Will some instrument take a measurement of local features and then correlate with the map? A human could do it if they roughly knew which area of the map to look at, but they'd also need to orient themselves. Mars has too weak a magnetic field to use a compass, I suppose?

    Also, there is a philosophical issue on what constitutes being lost? Is it with relation to base camp? Or is it with relation to a pickup vehicle (that might just home on where the astronauts currently are, and so they're never lost)?


    Just being pedantic :D

  5. Hi Garrett,

    thank you for the link!

    The ESA Mars Express site has, beside a great conventional collection of photos, a fancy
    Mars Express image browser where images a marked by small flags on a rotating planet.

  6. Dear Bee, Rae-Ann,

    yeah, but Venus is much more difficult ;-)

    At least, the planet has those thick clouds that completly obscure the view of the surface. There was a mission to Venus in the early 1990s, Magellan, which produced maps of Venus from radar data.

    Here is a collection of images from Magellan - also a time trip back to the beginnings of the www ;-). And there is some kind of interactive atlas.

    And, I just realized that ESA has currently a space probe in orbit around Venus, called Venus Express. But if I understand that correctly, the instruments onboard cannot see down onto the surface in detail. Some photos of the Venusian clouds are here ;-)

  7. Dear Rae-Ann,

    yes, the famous face eventually has turned out to be a not so very special hill in a region called Cydonia - see for example from the ESA website: 'Face on Mars' in Cydonia region.

    The FU Berlin group has a recent news item about the face, where you can find more details

    BTW, their HRSC Press Release Archive has much more photos from Mars.

  8. Hi Arun,

    good point with the missing magnetic field. Is the atmosphere on Mars thin enough so that one can see bright stars in plain daylight? But I think that before astronauts set foot on Mars, there will be much more space probes in orbit, so perhaps they can install some kind of GPS system before?

    there is a philosophical issue on what constitutes being lost?

    Now, that's a deep question indeed ;-) Maybe astronauts on Mars are lost anyway?

    What I had in mind, I thought they need some kind of base camp, with stationary facilities for life maintainence systems, recycling of water, air, energy supply, etc...? They better would find their way back to this base...

  9. No Martian astronomy is possible in broad daylight, but some interesting astronomy has been performed from the surface of Mars at night with the Rover Spirit.

  10. stefan, thanks for all those great links to images!


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