NASA and Microsoft Bring Mars to the Web in 3D

Posted by at 3:18 pm on July 13, 2010

NASA and Microsoft Research are bringing Mars to life with new features in the WorldWide Telescope software that provides viewers with a high-resolution 3-D map of the Red Planet.   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.

“By providing the Mars dataset to the public on the WorldWide Telescope platform, we are enabling a whole new audience to experience the thrill of space,” said Chris C. Kemp, chief technology officer for information technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The images and new NASA data will allow you to virtually explore Mars and make scientific discoveries. New features include the highest resolution fully interactive map of Mars ever created, realistic 3-D renderings of the surface of the planet and video tours with two NASA scientists, James Garvin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Carol Stoker of Ames.

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.

“These incredibly detailed maps will enable the public to better experience and explore Mars,” said Michael Broxton, a research scientist in the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. “The collaborative relationship between NASA and Microsoft Research was instrumental for creating the software that brings these new Mars images into people’s hands, classrooms and living rooms.”

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.

“Microsoft has a long-standing relationship with NASA that has enabled us to jointly provide the public with the ability to discover space in a new way,” said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research.

As part of the new user experience in the WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft is also announcing a first of its kind: a high-resolution spherical TeraPixel sky map now available to viewers within the telescope. The map is the largest and highest-quality spherical image of the sky currently available and was created from data provided by the Digitized Sky Survey, a collection of thousands of images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes. When those images are combined and processed, the TeraPixel image provides a complete, spherical, panoramic rendering of the night skies that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view.

Using Project Trident technology, Microsoft Research automated the data analysis and visualization process and was able to manage the workflow for TeraPixel in an efficient way. With Project Trident and DryadLINQ, Microsoft Research reduced the time it took to run one iteration of the TeraPixel image from weeks to hours.

To learn more and download the WorldWide Telescope, visit:

http://www.worldwidetelescope.org

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