A Human Bird’s Eye View of Mars
A Human Bird’s Eye View of Mars
PSP_006633_2010  Science Theme: Future Exploration/Landing Sites
There have been several proposals to send people to Mars but not land them on the surface. Instead, they would either fly by Mars once and return to Earth, or orbit Mars for a period of time. Would they at least get spectacular naked-eye views of the Martian surface?

Some parts of Mars would be interesting: for example the polar ice caps, and the bright (dust-covered) regions would be seen reasonably well, although the color is very uniform. The dark (low reflectance) regions of Mars are some of the most interesting and important regions studied by our orbiters and rovers, but they would appear very bland to humans outside of the planet's atmosphere. This is because the thin atmosphere of Mars is quite bright and dusty, so when looking at dark surface areas, most of what you would see is scattered light from the atmospheric dust, and the surface would have a very low contrast. It would also appear reddish, even if the surface materials are not reddish, from the scattered light.

Here is an example from the Nili Patera region of Mars, a candidate future landing site. At the top is an approximation of the natural color as seen by people with normal color vision--almost no surface detail is visible. In the middle is the standard HiRISE IRB color product, consisting of the infrared, red, and blue-green images displayed as red, green, and blue, respectively, and with a min-max stretch applied to each color. In other words, the darkest pixel in the entire image is set to black, the brightest pixel is set to white, and all others are linearly interpolated. At bottom is an enhanced color product, in which each bandpass is given a linear stretch for the local cutout, sometimes saturating a small percentage of data to black or white to give the rest of the scene more contrast, followed by color saturation enhancement. Now we can see a diversity of colors that distinguish different surface units: dust, sand, and rocks with different minerals.

Written by: Alfred McEwen (narration: Tre Gibbs)  (8 September 2016)

This is a stereo pair with PSP_007556_2010.
Acquisition date
26 December 2007

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
279.2 km (173.5 miles)

Original image scale range
28.1 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~84 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
39°, with the Sun about 51° above the horizon

Solar longitude
8.2°, Northern Spring

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  343.5°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
map projected

RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (942MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (406MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (434MB)
non-map           (504MB)

IRB color
map projected  (165MB)
non-map           (397MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (265MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (256MB)

RGB color
non map           (409MB)
Map-projected, reduced-resolution
Full resolution JP2 download
Anaglyph details page

DTM details page


B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.