Emerging Tech

Stunning 360-degree view of Mars created by Danish panorama expert

Panoramas of the surface of Mars have been viewable using the Google Earth application for a while now, but from what I’ve seen, they lack the extraordinary clarity of this latest one constructed by NASA and enhanced by Danish photographer Hans Nyberg.

After seeing NASA’s panorama pic (below) – created from images taken by the Curiosity rover – Nyberg decided to give it the 360-degree treatment to allow viewers to spin around on the spot, as if they were actually there alongside the rover.

The problem was, NASA’s image had a few flaws – the horizon wasn’t straight, and a large portion of the sky was missing. Using an image editor, Nyberg extended the sky based on the existing data in the photo, and quickly straightened the landscape. Lastly, he adjusted the colors to show how they would look under the same light on Earth.

The final result is stunning, especially when viewed full screen on a large monitor.

The image can be easily explored by clicking and dragging with a mouse, or by using the cursor keys. Nearby stones and rocks are clearly visible in the panorama, as is Mount Sharp, situated about 12 miles from where Curiosity took the photos.

The Curiosity rover is equipped with a number of photographic devices, among them a 34-millimeter Mast Camera. It was this which snapped the images for the panorama. The entire picture is 29,000 pixels wide and 7,000 pixels high and comprises 140 images taken on August 8 and August 18.

Nyberg’s no amateur when it comes to creating 360-degree panoramas like this, having started a company and website dedicated to the genre back in 2002.

Be sure to take a moment to explore his Mars panorama, and for the best experience remember to take it full screen by clicking the appropriate link.

Nyberg told Digital Trends he’s been making 360-degree Mars panoramas since 2004 when the Opportunity and Spirit rovers landed on the planet. The Danish photographer said that the day after Curiosity landed early last month, visits to the page of one of his older Mars panoramas (Greeley Haven) suddenly spiked, with people apparently mistakenly believing they were looking at images from Curiosity. In the space of a month, the Greeley Haven pic has had over three million hits.

As for his new Curiosity panorama, that’s had 350,000 hits in the space of just five days.

For Nyberg, who makes part of his living out of providing information-rich panoramas to businesses, it’s not capturing the photos and building the shots that takes time – the technology is already there for that and on the whole works efficiently; instead, the time consuming part is “making the final virtual tour which may include navigation hotspots, images and text, videos and sound.”

He continues, “There are also the many different devices we have today that need to be supported on Android, Flash, the iPad and the iPhone. Everything changes very fast.”

For anyone keen to try their own top-notch photo stitch, Nyberg recommends software called PTGui.

“PTGui is my own preference and I believe also the most used by professional panorama photographers as it gives you some options to control the stitch manually as well as some great batch stitching possibilities,” he said.

Absolute beginners might want to check out free web-based options such as Panomonkey or Dermander, or the open-source Hugin photo stitcher. Plenty of smartphone apps also work well, including 360 Panorama.

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