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Emily LakdawallaDecember 15, 2009

Class announcement: How to play with Mars Express VMC images

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I've been fiddling with images from the Mars Webcam, more officially known as the Mars Express Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC), for the last couple of weeks. This camera is both awful and awesome. It was never expected to be used beyond its main task, documenting the release of Beagle 2; and it certainly wasn't intended to be used to photograph Mars regularly. But it was there on the spacecraft and ESA decided to turn it on and try. Now they release new global images from this camera very regularly. The images are not the greatest, but a little bit of processing can really pull out some lovely views of Mars of a sort that is impossible to obtain from any other source. They're better than the best amateur Earth-based Mars photos, and they show Mars in phases that are simply not visible from Earth. The results of my fiddling are below. Click to enlarge and see how many of Mars' geographic features you can recognize!

I want to continue my classes on image processing but the busy season between Thanksgiving and Christmas has prevented me from sitting down to plan the next big topic, a primer on space cameras. But I don't want to lose momentum, so I think that tomorrow I'm going to do a quickie class on how to play with Mars Express VMC images. The VMC is unlike any other camera that's out there in space, so it makes sense to treat it separately. And, more than any other else, this camera is yours -- that is, the pictures aren't for any science team, they're for the public. So I'll show you what I've learned and how you can process the images on your own.

I'll do the class at 10:30 tomorrow morning PST (18:30 UTC) -- return to the blog home page for a link to the live broadcast, or come a little later to download it for later viewing.

Here's my versions of the best 64 Mars Express VMC images. I also uploaded this to our shop -- you can buy it as an 11-by-17-inch poster if you like! Enjoy.

Sixty-four Views of Mars from Mars Express VMC

Data courtesy of ESA / processing by Emily Lakdawalla

Sixty-four Views of Mars from Mars Express VMC
The Mars Webcam (more officially known as the Mars Express Visual Monitoring Camera or VMC) has been capturing global views of Mars for the public since October 2007. These 64 images were taken between July 2 and November 15, 2008 and July 1 and August 15, 2009. This image is available as an 11-by-17-inch poster from The Planetary Society Store.

Read more: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Mars Express, events and announcements, Mars, explaining image processing

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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