London, April 27 (IANS) A team of scientists has shown in unprecedented detail the surface of Mars — including the location of Beagle-2, the British landing spacecraft — using a revolutionary image stacking and matching technique.
With the help of Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR) technique, the researchers have stacked and matched images taken from orbit, to reveal objects at a resolution up to five times greater than previously achieved.
“Using novel machine vision methods, information from lower resolution images can be extracted to estimate the best possible true scene. This technique has huge potential to improve our knowledge of a planet’s surface from multiple remotely sensed images,” said lead author Yu Tao, research associate from the University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Britain.
“We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures. 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,” said one of the researchers, professor Jan-Peter Muller.
By stacking and matching pictures of the same area taken from different angles, SRR allows objects as small as 5cm (about 2 inches) to be seen from the same 25cm telescope.
For Mars, where the surface usually takes decades to millions of years to change, these images can be captured over a period of ten years and still achieve a high resolution, the researchers noted.
The team applied SRR to stacks of between four and eight 25cm images of the Martian surface taken using the NASA HiRISE camera to achieve the 5cm target resolution.
They released exciting pictures of the Beagle-2 lander, the ancient lakebeds discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover, NASA’s MER-A rover tracks and Home Plate’s rocks.
“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,” Muller added in the paper published in the journal Planetary and Space Science.
“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,” he noted.
The technique could be used to search for other artefacts from past failed landings as well as identify safe landing locations for future rover missions.
It will also allow scientists to explore vastly more terrain than is possible with a single rover.