Long gone are the days of seeing mysterious faces in blurry images from the surface of Mars. Satellite images of the Red Planet are now getting the high-resolution treatment.
Thanks to a new technique, called Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR), researchers from University College London were able to go beyond the 25-centimeter (10-inch) resolution limit of current cameras. By stacking and matching pictures of the same area taken from different angles, SRR-treated images have a resolution of up to 5 centimeters (2 inches).
“We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures,” said Professor Jan-Peter Muller, co-author of the study, in a statement. “It allows us to see objects in much sharper focus from orbit than ever before and the picture quality is comparable to that obtained from landers.”
The researchers applied SRR to stacks of four to eight images of the Martian surface taken using the NASA HiRISE camera, which is on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The satellite has been orbiting Mars since 2006 and its most important discovery has been the detection of flowing salty water on Mars.
In their paper, published in Planetary and Space Science, the researchers showcase the capabilities of this technique using side-by-side comparisons between the original HiRISE pictures and the enhanced ones.
The Home Plate and Spirit tracks. NASA/UCL/University of Leicester
On the left, we see the original image of the “Home Plate” – a flat region in the Martian Columbia Hills – as taken by HiRISE. On the right is the enhanced SRR version. Thanks to the higher resolution, the tracks of NASA's Spirit rover are clearly visible on the surface. This is the resting place of Spirit, which got stuck, and in the images it is barely visible as a white dot halfway up on the left of the Home Plate.
Mitcheltree Ridge, east of the Home Plate. NASA/UCL/University of Leicester
This image shows the Mitcheltree Ridge. Again, the left image is the original HiRISE snap, with the enhanced version on the right. The area was visited by Spirit on the way to Home Plate.
Beagle 2's location on Mars. NASA/UCL/University of Leicester
Finally, the team also released an enhanced image that shows where the Beagle 2 probe landed (white dot at 91° 47' 24" 11° 31' 34"). Beagle 2 was a British lander that was sent to Mars in 2003, but it failed to make contact with Earth. It was found by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last year, with images suggesting its solar panels did not deploy properly.
“As more pictures are collected, we will see increasing evidence of the kind we have only seen from the three successful rover missions to date. This will be a game-changer and the start of a new era in planetary exploration,” Muller said.
Above is an enhanced view of Beagle 2 on Mars. NASA/UCL/University of Leicester