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NASA, Microsoft Offer Visual Tour Of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter collected thousands of images that can be viewed online through Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope.

NASA, Microsoft Reveal Mars In Pictures
(click image for larger view)
NASA, Microsoft Reveal Mars In Pictures

High-resolution images of Mars, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and accessed over the web, are so detailed that viewing them is akin to going for a walk on the Red Planet, according to Microsoft.

The images are made available through Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope in partnership with NASA. Microsoft says they provide the only "pole to pole, 3D experience" of Mars.

The space agency teamed with Microsoft in March 2009 under a Space Act Agreement to make images of the moon, Mars, and other planets and stars available through WorldWide Telescope, a virtual telescope or "desktop observatory" created by Microsoft Research.

In July, NASA and Microsoft added more than 13,000 high-res images of Mars, primarily taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005 and equipped with a high-res camera.

"People can go for a walk on Mars now, and actually see the craters, see the cliffs," Microsoft Research VP Tony Hey, says in a video describing the experience.

The images were stitched together and rendered in 3D by NASA's Intelligent Robotics Group. The photos were a quarter of a meter per pixel on average -- 100 times the size of those collected by a 10-megapixel camera. Because of the massive file size, it took 14 days of processing on 114 CPUs to come up with the image mosaic. The team used NASA's Nebula computing cloud to process the images.

Users must download client software on a Windows PC or Mac to access WorldWide Telescope's full feature set. A browser-based client with limited functionality is also available.

Google has a similar feature, also done in collaboration with NASA, called Google Mars.


Microsoft, NASA Virtual Telescope Focuses On Mars

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NASA Budget Paves Way For Mars Mission

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