New images show the surface of surface in unprecedented detail, and even reveal the location of the long-lost Mars rover Beagle 2.
Scientists from University College London (UCL) have used a new image stacking and matching technique to reveal pictures of the Beagle 2 lander, the lakebeds discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover, tracks left by NASA’s MER-A rover and Home Plate’s rocks, according to a press release..
New technique could change planetary exploration
Researchers stacked and matched images taken from orbit in order to make images of up to 5 times the resolution of previous efforts. The Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR) technique was described in a paper published in Planetary and Space Science in February, however it has only recently been used to look for specific objects on Mars.
The technique could also allow scientists to spot other artifacts from past Mars missions, while also picking safe landing spots for future missions. It will also let scientists look over huge amounts of Martian territory that is simply not possible with a single rover.
Co-author Professor Jan-Peter Muller from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures. It allows us to see objects in much sharper focus from orbit than ever before and the picture quality is comparable to that obtained from landers.”
Stacking Mars images improves quality
The effects on our knowledge of Mars could be huge, said Muller. “As more pictures are collected, we will see increasing evidence of the kind we have only seen from the three successful rover missions to date. This will be a game-changer and the start of a new era in planetary exploration,”he said.
The level of detail that can be observed from space telescopes is limited by mass, the bandwidth needed to beam images back to Earth and interference from planetary atmospheres. The resolution limit is around 25 cm for these telescopes.
By using SRR scientists can see objects as small as 5 cm from this same 25 cm telescope. Given that the surface of Mars usually takes millions of years to experience significant changes, these images can be taken over a period of 10 years and still provide a high resolution.
Beagle 2 lander can be seen in great detail
On Earth the technique must use images captured in just a few seconds due to the turbulent nature of our atmosphere. Researchers at UCL used images from the NASA HIRISE camera, stacking between four and eight 25 cm images.
“Using novel machine vision methods, information from lower resolution images can be extracted to estimate the best possible true scene. This technique has huge potential to improve our knowledge of a planet’s surface from multiple remotely sensed images. In the future, we will be able to recreate rover-scale images anywhere on the surface of Mars and other planets from repeat image stacks” said Mr Yu Tao, Research Associate at UCL and lead author of the paper.
The Beagle 2 lander was found using a suggested site provided by Professor Mark Sims and colleagues at the University of Leicester. The United Kingdom’s lander took off from Earth in June 2003 and landed six months later.
However it never made contact with Earth after landing and its exact location was not known until last year. This latest information shows high resolution images of the landing site.