UCL News


3D images of surface of Mars available from Mars Express

19 January 2004

The first 3D images of Mars taken by the Mars Express spacecraft are being made available today for the very first time.

The images being delivered by the spacecraft are so detailed that they will provide scientists with a better knowledge of the surface of Mars than they have of the Earth.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has today released a close-up image of the giant grand canyon on Mars, Valles Marineris, which is around 4,000 km long (as long as the whole of Europe) and almost 10km deep in places, more than 6 times deeper than the famous grand canyon on earth. The images are available on ESA's website, http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/index.html

Mars Express, Europe's first ever space mission to another planet, entered the orbit of Mars successfully on Christmas Day, and since last week the high resolution stereo camera on board has been taking a series of high resolution stereo images of the surface from altitudes as low as 270 km.

The 3D information means that, for the first time, scientists will be able to make geological measurements of such quantities as dip, strike and thickness of sedimentary layers on another planet, just as geologists do on the Earth. The images will also provide a wealth of information on past climate and water, as well as the relative ages of the surface from crater measurements on Mars, the evolution of volcanism, potential resources, characteristics of present and future landing sites, and observations of Mars' two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Professor Jan-Peter Muller, of the Department of Geomatic Engineering at University College London, one of two UK co-investigators on the project, said: "This first tantalising 3D colour view of the Martian surface represents the 'coming of age' for mapping of another planetary body. It demonstrates that contrary to some reports, the Mars Express mission is alive and well and delivering all the scientific benefits expected."

Dr John Murray, of the Open University, said: "In a matter of minutes, we are able to map an area greater than Great Britain and Ireland showing details a few metres in size. At the end of the mission we will know the surface of Mars better than we do the Earth."

Notes to editors:

  1. Mars Express will be carrying out intense study of the surface of Mars for the next two years. One of the most exciting instruments on board is a High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), with nine operating channels: triple stereo imaging, a super-high resolution channel, four colour channels and five phase angle channels.
  2. There are two British Co-Investigators on this experiment: Prof. Jan-Peter Muller of University College London, and Dr John Murray of the Open University. The Principal Investigator is Prof. Dr. Gerhard Neukum of the Free University of Berlin, and scientists from 10 countries are involved. The instrument has functioned perfectly so far. The spacecraft successfully entered Mars orbit on Christmas day, has already undergone further burns to place it in a nominal elliptical orbit around the planet, and since last week the HRSC has taken a series of high resolution stereo images of the surface from altitudes as low as 270 km (168 miles) above the surface.
  3. The HRSC experiment is planned to image the entire surface of Mars at at 10-20 metre resolution over 50% of the surface for the 2 year nominal mission and 100% over an extended mission of 4 years, with selected targets at 2.5-4 metres resolution. In other words, we will have better knowledge of the surface of Mars than we do of the Earth. Not only that, but it will be imaged in triple stereo, providing detailed 3D information as well. Prof. Muller helped to develop the 3D mapping system in association with the German Space Agency (DLR) more than 10 years ago. This 3D mapping system worked immediately with the first pictures relayed back from Mars. Dr Murray worked on the results of several NASA missions, and was a guest scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, during the Viking Mission to Mars in 1976-77.
  4. There will be a press conference at the ESA ESOC facilities on Friday, 23 January when the HRSC Principal Investigator, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Neukum of the Free University Berlin will present the first scientific findings of this highly successful mission including releasing more pictures and 3D views which are being processed this week.
  5. For further details, or to arrange an interview with Prof. Muller, please contact the UCL media relations office on 0207 679 9728 or 0207 679 7678. To arrange an interview with Dr Murray, please either contact him on 01908 652 118 or 07791 963 646, or call Neil Coaten, Media Relations Officer, The Open University, on 01908 652580 or 07901 515891.