June 19, 2013 | 3
During Barack Obama’s first inauguration as president in 2009, photographer David Bergman snapped hundreds of photos to build a stunning mosaic of the event, comprising more than one billion pixels in total. Users of the clickable, zoomable Gigapan platform (where the inauguration mosaic has attracted more than 15 million views) dove into the image to pull out any number of embedded details, from celebrities in the crowd to an apparently dozing Clarence Thomas.
Now a new 1.3-billion-pixel image of the surface of Mars should keep curious clickers occupied for a while, even though the chances of spotting Beyoncé or a sleepy Supreme Court justice are nil. NASA released the ultradetailed Gigapan mosaic, built up from roughly 900 individual images, on June 19.
The images in the mosaic come from the space agency’s Curiosity Rover, currently scouring Gale Crater on the Red Planet in search of evidence of past habitable environments. The rover’s telephoto camera acquired most of the snapshots, according to a NASA statement, with supplemental images from a wide-angle camera on the rover’s mast and a few robot selfies from Curiosity’s navigation camera.
The mosaic shows Curiosity’s environs in late 2012, when the rover was parked at a sandy location called Rocknest. That is where Curiosity first deployed the scoop at the end of its robotic arm to sample the fine-grained Martian soil and fired up its suite of onboard instruments to chemically analyze the material.
In this presentation of the Mars mosaic, NASA has helpfully supplied some annotations of significant sites, such as the rover’s landing area and its ultimate destination, Mount Sharp. But once you familiarize yourself with the image, I recommend exploring it in full-screen panorama mode to fully appreciate the astonishing detail.
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX