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3D Photographs of Life on Mars, Taken by Robots

by Allison Meier on January 6, 2014

A 360 degree view of Mount Sharp on the southern horizon, taken by Curiosity on Jan. 23, 25, and 26, 2013 (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech) (all images courtesy NASA)

A 360-degree view of Mount Sharp on the southern horizon, taken by Curiosity on Jan. 23, 25, and 26, 2013 (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech) (all images courtesy NASA)

In terms of space exploration, nothing was more on the public mind in 2013 than Mars. When Mars One asked people to register to potentially take a one-way trip millions of miles away from home, over 200,000 people signed up. Even moonwalker Buzz Aldrin published a whole book in May on why we should get there by 2035. So, now more than ever, it’s fascinating to look at the images we have from the Red Planet, and it just so happens that NASA has a whole collection in 3D.

“Explore Mars” 3D glasses template (via nasa.gov)

No red and blue glasses on hand? The Mars 3D Images site has you covered with their printable “Explore Mars” 3D glasses, although you still have to buy the red and blue cellophane. And you can’t just go see Gravity again and swipe those, because we’re talking old-school Cat-Women of the Moon B-movie-style 3D glasses, with the red/blue shift. Yet, even without a pair the anaglyphs are quite mesmerizing. Many were taken in 360-degree panoramas (especially with the newest Mars Rover, Curiosity, which landed on August 6, 2012), and the colorization gives them a psychedelic vibe.

A view from the Mars Exploration Rover from when it set a one-day distance record for martian driving in 2005 (via Panoramic Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A view from the Mars Exploration Rover from when it set a one-day distance record for Martian driving, in 2005 (via Panoramic Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The 3D images make up just a small part of the Mars photographs being sent back by Curiosity and archived from Spirit (which launched in 2003 but sadly got stuck in sand and sent its last message on March 22, 2010) and Opportunity (which also launched in 2003 and is still rolling over the distant terrain). Some show strange sand dunes that are not unlike landscapes on Earth (or at least, our Martian analogues); others capture the small shadows of the rovers on the dry craters. All the vehicles are equipped with multiple cameras, which means the different angles come together in these scenes, sometimes taken over the course of days.

Mars Exploration Rover Spirit views its lander platform. (via Hazard Avoidance Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The NASA images aren’t the only 3D glimpses you can get  of Mars — the European Space Agency compiled thousands of flyovers from the Mars Express into a stunning video, and Google Maps has their own manically-hued (OK, it’s by topography) explorable map. But there’s something oddly personal about the rover 3D photos; even if they are just robots rolling on their programmed tracks in what has to be the loneliest machine job since the drilling of the Kola Superdeep Borehole, there’s an immediacy to their solitary view of the distant world. Maybe someday soon, we can compare them to photographs from a human eye.

Image from the Exploration Rover Opportunity on June 6, 2004, showing “Endurance Crater” (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Landslide in Shalbatana Vallis (via Context Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Image from Curiosity of its Bradbury Landing site in Gale Crater looking towards Mount Sharp (Curiosity’s shadow on the left) (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Crater in Tantalus Fossae (via Context Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Western Candor, showing the floor of one of the major Martian canyons (via Context Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Burns Cliff captured by the Exploration Rover’s panoramic camera in November 2004 (via Panoramic Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell)

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity captures its shadow at Endurance Crater on May 13, 2004. (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Exploration Rover Spirit with a panoramic view of Mars (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Victoria Crater viewed by Mars Rover Opportunity (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Victoria Crater viewed by Mars Rover Opportunity (via Navigation Camera, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Sand dunes in a Noachis Terra crater

Sand dunes in a Noachis Terra crater (via Hi-RISE, NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

“Of Elephants and Floods of Lava,” showing a young lava flow in Elysium Planitia that looks like an elephant (via Hi-RISE, NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

View more of Mars in 3D on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology’s site. 

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