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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded

Discussion and news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology

Mars Tinted Goggles

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What would the landscapes of Mars look like under a different light?

Getting an accurate visual sense of the rocks and minerals on the martian surface is important for a number of reasons. For science it's critical that objects are correctly seen, especially in terms of colors. Spectral features help give compounds their optical fingerprints and geologists are adept at spotting mineral compositions by eye, if the light is right. For us as curious humans it's important to be able to put things in some kind of context.

But an alien world is lit with alien light. On Mars the Sun is certainly dimmer, it's also differently filtered through the martian atmosphere, resulting in an unfamiliar palette of colors that reflect off the surface material.

NASA's Curiosity recently released an intriguing pairing of panoramic views of the martian surface from the rover's 'Rocknest' site. The first (below) is a piece of the 'raw' image - as it is directly seen under these foreign skies by this camera (and pretty much what you or I would see if we could stand there). The second image (further below), is the same scene but the palette has been adjusted (white-balanced) to show what the same rocks and features would look like under the natural light on Earth.

What's interesting, to my mind, is how 'Earth-like' the second image really appears. Which is perhaps testament to how well evolution has tuned us to respond to our home environment, and also to how much of Mars is composed of the same kinds of rocks and formations we know well from here.

Raw image of Mars (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

The same scene as it might appear under Earth's skies (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

('Goggles?' You may ask, not glasses? Yes, Mars is a dusty place and I'd recommend goggles every time.)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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