Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope – Is there life on Mars?

Although this blog is ostensibly about how Microsoft technology is relevant to, and applied in, different aspects of public sector business, it does no harm to introduce a Wow! factor every so often.  One of the many intriguing and exciting projects that Microsoft Research is working on is called the WorldWide Telescope and, in collaboration with NASA, they have released a fascinating exploration of Mars.

Let me backtrack for a moment and explain more about the WorldWide Telescope (WWT).   It is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the world’s best ground- and space-based telescopes for the exploration of the universe. WWT blends terabytes of images, information, and stories from multiple sources into a seamless, immersive, rich media experience delivered over the Internet. Hobby and professional astronomers and students of space of all ages will feel empowered to explore and understand the cosmos using WWT’s simple and powerful user interface.

The Mars experience utilizes more than 13,000 high-resolution images captured by a number of NASA’s Mars spacecraft, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These incredibly detailed images have been stitched together and rendered in 3-D by NASA’s Intelligent Robotics Group, enabling Microsoft to create the only pole-to-pole, three-dimensional experience of the Red Planet. In addition, the surface map has been colour corrected to match the latest estimates of the planet’s appearance, adding yet more realism to your experience. And to complement your exploration, leading astronomers have created interactive guided tours of Mars, so get ready for a lifelike experience of the Red Planet.

Here is a sample image taken from WWT Mars Experience of the Galle (Happy Face) crater on Mars.  Try this one on your PC and as it zooms in on the image you’ll quickly see why the crater is described informally as ‘Happy Face’:


Mars (Happy Face) Crater from Microsoft WorldWide Telescope

According to Chris C Kemp, chief technology officer for IT at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C, “With this release, NASA and Microsoft Research are providing an entirely new viewing experience in WorldWide Telescope.  By providing the Mars dataset to the public in Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope platform, we are lowering the barrier of access to this information and enabling a whole new audience to experience the thrill of space.”

WWT is a fascinating insight into the innovative and accessible projects being undertaken by Microsoft Research and you can experience WWT on your PC or Web browser here.

Posted by Ian

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