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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

NASA and Microsoft Let You Explore Mars Like Never Before

By: Stan Schroeder

Microsoft Research and NASA have teamed up once again and brought the “most complete, highest-resolution coverage of Mars available” to WorldWide Telescope. Microsoft’s app lets you explore space either through a zoom-and-pan interface or guided tours.

This imagery is the handiwork of a group informally called the Mapmakers, led by NASA’s Michael Broxton. Their job is to take satellite images from Mars and elsewhere in our solar system, and turn them into maps.

Yes, it sounds like every geek’s dream job, and having a name that sounds like something from a William Gibson novel doesn’t hurt, either. Director of Microsoft Research’s Earth Dan Fay has worked with Broxton to turn these images and maps into an immersive new experience for the Worldwide Telescope.

“NASA had the images and they were open to new ways to share them. Through the WorldWide Telescope we were able to build a user interface at WWT|Mars that would allow people to take advantage of the great content they had,” Fay says.

As far as what kind of imagery you can expect here, one example is a new dataset from the University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), which is a remote-sensing camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These images are taken in an incredibly high resolution — each image is a gigapixel in size — and the team took all 13,000 HiRISE images and stitched them onto one map. This map, says NASA, is the “highest-resolution map of Mars’s surface ever constructed.”

WorldWide Telescope is available as a desktop application or a web client (which requires Microsoft Silverlight) over at