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Microsoft, NASA Virtual Telescope Focuses On Mars

High-resolution images and interactive tours of Mars are now available online via WorldWide Telescope.

High-resolution images and interactive tours of Mars are now available online via a virtual telescope created by NASA and Microsoft.

NASA now has added new interactive tours of Mars -- including footage of NASA scientists -- to WorldWide Telescope through a new Mars experience viewer that's been added to the application.

WorldWide Telescope, provides images of Sun, Moon and other stars and planets generated by telescopes both on Earth and in space, including the Hubble Telescope.

More than 13,000 high-resolution images from NASA spacecraft -- primarily the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter -- are available through the Mars experience.

The images were stitched together and rendered in 3D by NASA's Intelligent Robotics Group, according to NASA.

To create the interactive Mars experience, the group -- which resides at NASA's Ames Research Center -- worked with images from the University of Arizona's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), remote-sensing camera on the Orbiter.

The camera collects images that are a quarter of a meter per pixel on average -- which is 100 times the size of images collected by a 10-megapixel camera, according to NASA

The team then stitched those images together to create a map of the area of Mars the camera recorded, which is only about 1 percent of the planet.

Because of the massive size of the files, the team used Nebula, NASA's high-performance computing cloud, to process the image data. It took about 14 days of processing on 114 CPUs to come up with the mosaic of images, which represents all of the images taken by HiRISE as of May 2010, according to NASA.

People can either view the virtual telescope via a web application or download a client application to a PC or Mac to explore its full capabilities.

Microsoft and NASA unveiled their plan to begin a high-resolution image map of Mars in March 2009. Google Earth also provides a view of space images from telescopes, including images from Mars.

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