Planetary scientists may soon no longer need a rover to clearly see details of the Martian landscape. "Stacking" multiple photos snapped by a camera orbiting thousands of kilometres above can pick out objects on the surface just five centimetres wide, including tracks left by a rover.
University College London’s Yu Tao and Jan-Peter Muller published the technique, dubbed Gotcha-PDE-TV, in Planetary and Space Science.
The duo says it can be used to pick safe landing spots and track down failed missions, and will allow scientists to explore more terrain than is possible with a single rover.
"We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures,” Muller says.
“It allows us to see objects in much sharper focus from orbit than ever before and the picture quality is comparable to that obtained from landers.
"As more pictures are collected, we will see increasing evidence of the kind we have only seen from the three successful rover missions to date. This will be a game-changer and the start of a new era in planetary exploration."
Cameras orbiting Mars are limited to a resolution of around 25 centimetres. But by stacking and matching pictures of the same area taken at different angles, Gotcha-PDE-TV super-resolution restoration can pick out objects as small as five centimetres.
In these images, Tao and Muller stacked between four and eight images of Mars’ surface taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) telescopic camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which orbits the red planet at around 24,000 kilometres.
“In the future, we will be able to recreate rover-scale images anywhere on the surface of Mars and other planets from repeat image stacks,” Tao says.
He and Muller plan to explore more of Mars using the technique to see what other relics of space exploration they can find.
Belinda Smith is a science and technology journalist in Melbourne, Australia.
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