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Outer Space

NASA builds interactive map that lets people ‘hike’ Mars

The vast map encompasses the areas surrounding the landing site of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

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(Photo by murat esibatir via Pexels)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Budding astronauts can now experience the sights and even the sounds of Mars as they 'hike' across the Red Planet, thanks to a new interactive map from NASA.

Users can hike across and around the red planet’s Jezero Crater using Virtual Reality, a regular laptop or their phone, and if they stand beside the Mars Rover they can even hear it working.

The vast map encompasses the areas surrounding the landing site of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

Steep slopes can be traversed and views can be taken in from large scales to centimeter-close detail.

Users can stand on top of the Mars rover at ground level - just like street view in Google Maps - and stare across the surrounding desert landscape.

Tiny details of the rover are visible, right down to wires and flecks of dirt on its white body.

People can then select higher altitudes and watch the mountainous terrain with recordings of the desolate planet in the background.

Visitors to Hogwallow Flats will see white shingles between the dust, and some of the sedimentary rocks in the Jezero Crater that scientists visited Mars to study.

According to NASA, users staring at the Hogwallow Flats are looking at the remains of a delta from a river that flowed into Lake Jezero 3.5 billion years ago.

via GIPHY

The sound is harsher and captures the rover rolling across this part of the Jezero Crater, at other locations people can hear the rover moving quietly until it has to engage its suspension on rougher terrain.

Paleo lake is a quieter stopping point - users can look over a recreated expanse of water plotted by suspected ancient lake shorelines while they listen to the low hum of the planet.

Real 3D panoramic views have been combined with synthetically created orbital imagery and terrain data to create the online map.

Single images from the Mastacam-Z camera onboard the Mars 2020 Rover Perseverance have also been stitched together to form the easily accessible web-browser vision of the planet.

And the sounds have been recorded by the SuperCam instrument on the same rover mission.

The epic creation was released at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2022 in Granada, Spain by Sebastian Walter of the Freie Universität Berlin.

The map is the perfect tool for planning a future visit to Mars, with an interactive interface where you can choose from different available base datasets.

Sebastian spoke about the vividness of the new Martian map.

“Some of the slopes are pretty steep, so watch out for those if you want to avoid too much oxygen consumption," he said.

“To get a real feeling of what to expect on your future Mars trip, you can click on one of the waypoint marker symbols to enter either a full-screen 3D view or, if you have a Virtual Reality setup, to enter a fully immersive environment.

“You can even listen to the sounds of the rover if you stand close by, but please don’t touch it – otherwise you would contaminate the probes.”

The base layer of the map is created by data from three different instruments currently orbiting Mars: The High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, and the Context Camera (CTX) and High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instruments on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The Jezero map builds on the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars Express mission which has tried to bring three-dimensional images of Mars to the internet since 2004.

The other portion comes from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA's spacecraft sent to Mars to study geology in 2005.

“Initially we created the Jezero map as an outreach application to complement the HRSC Mapserver tool, which supports professional scientists to explore the Martian surface," Sebastian said.

“But as the rover returns more and more high-resolution image data and even audio recordings, it turns out to be the perfect tool for immersive visualization of that data in a scientific context by itself.”

The Terrain Relative Navigation team of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory provided the HiRISE data.

The map can be accessed here.

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