HiRISE Releases False Color Images of Potential MSL Landing Sites

PSP_003086_2015 - Color Image of Nili Fossae Trough, Candidate MSL Landing Site

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona – “PSP_003086_2015: Color Image of Nili Fossae Trough, Candidate MSL Landing Site

[Disclaimer: Richard Leis, Jr. is an Operations Specialist for HiRISE.]

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team today released a slew of new false color images of the surface of Mars to the public, the culmination of many months of software and automation development. Color products are now expected to be released at regular intervals, matching the previous release rate of black and white images. The images selected are of potential Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landing sites, the upcoming rover mission planned for launch in 2009. Now that these images have been released, researchers suggesting landing sites for the mission will have new data to work with while developing their proposals.

Creating useful color products from HiRISE data has proven to be a difficult task that has involved many people. Sarah Mattson applied her continuing University of Arizona mathematics education to help develop algorithms for registering and stitching the various color products together, based on manual procedures developed by HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen. Guy McArthur, a software developer for HiRISE, created a series of automated “pipelines” for turning calibrated image products into beautiful final color products. Eric Eliason, HiRISE Operations Center (HiROC) Manager oversaw the software development effort and participated in validation efforts. Operations Specialist Táhirih Motazedian reprocessed MSL image data through calibration, geometry, and the new color pipelines, after also conducting thorough testing of the pipelines, all while managing the HiROC systems resources that are pushed to their limits during such intense reprocessing efforts. Student Validators Alaina de Jong and Bryan Cardwell raced to validate new color products fresh out of the pipelines to ensure they were ready for today’s scheduled public release. Database Manager Rod Heyd ensured the database and procedures for releasing products were updated to handle the new color products. Finally, Website Guru Yisrael Espinoza updated the web backend and public site to include color images in an attractive and user-friendly way.

PSP_004052_2045 - Layers Exposed in Crater Near Mawrth Vallis

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona – PSP_004052_2045: Layers Exposed in Crater Near Mawrth Vallis

The HiRISE camera is currently in orbit around Mars on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The camera is returning the highest resolution images of the surface ever taken from Mars orbit, with images reaching resolutions of nearly 25 centimeters per pixel. This equates to objects about one meter in size on the surface of Mars, since the human eye needs about three or four pixels to pick out an object in an image. The new color images are in enhanced and false color. Everyone knows well that the surface of Mars is a study in red, so choosing color filters that can pull out subtle differences between compositions was a priority when developing the camera. Red, near infrared, and blue-green filters down the center of the instrument’s CCD array create a false color swath in HiRISE images of about 1.2 kilometers in width. The remaining red CCDs create a black and white image 6 kilometers across.

The prospective landing sites targeted by HiRISE include materials like clays, sulfates, and other materials with high water content. MSL is expected to explore just such a location to determine the past and current role of water on Mars and whether or not the environment ever supported microbial life.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).