NASA brings Red Planet online

Microsoft, NASA develop red planet map

Users can peruse the colossal mountains and cavernous valleys of Mars from their computer thanks to an interactive map developed by Microsoft and NASA.

The application provides users with the most complete and highest-resolution images of the red planet, which can be toured complete with narration by NASA scientists.

It took Redmond researchers about three years to analyse the data necessary to create the map.

NASA director of the Ames research centre intelligent robotics group, Michael Broxton, said the contour map has never been attempted or seen before.

“It’s an indispensible archive of information,” Broxton said in a statement.

“On earth, most of our craters have been erased because we have a much more active tectonic and volcanic process, but aside from that, there’s a lot of similarity [to Mars].”

Broxton said the 3D effect is developed from data fed from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter which measures altitude along the surface of Mars, combined with images from a process that takes two images from different angles to build the terrain.

His team, informally dubbed the Mapmakers, apply vision and image processing to problems of cartography, and have produced maps of the moon and other objects in the solar system.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) remote-sensing camera, planted on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, collects images of a resolution roughly a quarter of a meter per pixel and produces images with 100 times more data than a standard 10 megapixel camera.

Microsoft Research's earth, energy and environment director, Dan Fay, said the 13,000 HiRISE images, covering one per cent of Mars, were used with other datasets to make the map.

NASA’s ‘Nebula’ cloud server network took two weeks and 114 CPUs to process the prodigious amount of image data.

“For anyone who’s ever tried to edit a picture from a digital camera and had the computer spin on it for several seconds, multiply that by 100, or more. And then multiply the number of images by 13,000. Multiply the number of tasks by another dozen and you can begin to see why the process has never been attempted,” NASA wrote in a statement.

A “tiling system” helps processors compute the huge amount of imagery which includes the highest peak in the solar system, Olympus Mons.

The platform also includes a feature that provides mission context about the collection of pictures.

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