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NASA WorldWide Telescope Brings 3D Images of Mars

It's super-interactive, allowing regular folks to cruise around Mars in a way reminiscent of using Google Earth--plus a lot more.

It could take all week to comprehend how much you can see from your computer with this latest offering from NASA and Microsoft Research.

Gullies on Gorgonum Chaos Mesas. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona It’s an online virtual telescope with hi-res 3D images of Mars, with “WorldWide Telescope” software.

It uses images from various NASA spacecraft. Teams at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., jointly developed the software necessary to make NASA’s planetary data available in WorldWide Telescope.

The virtual telescope is super-interactive, allowing regular folks to cruise around Mars in a way reminiscent of using Google Earth. NASA says it will allow viewers to virtually explore Mars and make their own scientific discoveries. The agency says it includes the highest-resolution fully interactive map of Mars ever created, plus video tours with two NASA scientists, James Garvin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Carol Stoker of Ames.

Garvin’s tour walks viewers through the geological history of Mars and discusses three possible landing sites for human missions there. Each landing site highlights a different geological era of the planet. Stoker’s tour addresses the question “Is there life on Mars?” and describes the findings of NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander.

“Our hope is that this inspires the next generation of explorers to continue the scientific discovery process,” said Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden.

The Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames Research Center developed open source software that runs on the NASA Nebula cloud computing platform to create and host the high resolution maps. The maps contain 74,000 images from Mars Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera and more than 13,000 high-resolution images of Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. Each individual HiRISE image contains more than a billion pixels. The complete maps were rendered into image mosaics containing more than half a billion smaller images.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) reached the planet in 2006 to begin a two-year primary science mission. The mission has returned more data about Mars than all other spacecraft sent to the Red Planet. The Global Surveyor began orbiting Mars in 1997. The spacecraft operated longer than any other Mars spacecraft, ceasing operations in November 2006.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages MRO for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona and was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego provided and operated the Mars Orbiter Camera.

To learn more and download the WorldWide Telescope, visit

For more information and images of Mars taken by HiRISE, visit

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