NASA Mars satellite snaps first public picked photos

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter takes high-res photos of red planet

composite of public chosen Mars pics
NASA today said it took eight high-resolution photos of Mars that were chosen through a public suggestion box the space agency put up in January. 

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera, aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, is nicknamed, "the people's camera," NASA stated.   Through the suggestion box known as HiWish NASA has received nearly 1,000 suggestions. The first eight images of areas the public selected are available online here ( note: NASA was having trouble with this site as of 2:30 pm).

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Since 2006, HiRISE has obtained approximately 13,000 observations covering dozens of square miles, including areas from a student-suggestion program called NASA Quest. However, only about 1 percent of the Martian surface has been photographed. The public is encouraged to recommend sites for the other 99%. 

NASA said this wasn't the first time the public got to pick Mars shots.  A camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor imaged 1,086 targets suggested through a public-request program from 2003 until 2006.  Another camera aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter has taken nearly 500 images after receiving approximately 1,400 suggestions through a public-request program initiated in 2009. 

HiRISE is the most powerful camera ever to orbit another planet. It has taken thousands of black-and-white images, and hundreds of color images, since it began science operations in 2006. A single HiRISE image will often be a multigigabyte image that measures 20,000 pixels by 50,000 pixels, which includes a 4,000-by-50,000 pixel region in three colors. It can take a computer up to three hours to process such an image.  Despite the thousands of pictures already taken, less than 1% of the Martian surface has been imaged, NASA said. 

Public astronomers can view Mars maps using HiWish to see images already taken, check which targets already have been suggested and make new suggestions.  Suggestions will be put into a targeting database, and may get selected as an upcoming observation. The HiWish site lets you then tack your suggestions and be notified when one of your suggestions gets taken. 

NASA said that in addition to identifying the location on a map, anyone nominating a photo target will be asked to give the observation a title, explain the potential scientific benefit of photographing the site and put the suggestion into one of the camera team's 18 science themes. The themes include categories such as impact, seasonal and volcanic processes. 

The HiRISE science team will evaluate suggestions and put high-priority ones into a queue. Thousands of pending targets from scientists and the public will be imaged when the orbiter's track and other conditions are right. 

NASA last week upgraded the software controlling its Mars Rover Opportunity to let it make its own decisions about what items like rocks and interesting red planet formations to focus its cameras on. 

The new system, which NASA uploaded over the past few months, is called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS and it lets Opportunity's computer examine images that the rover takes with its wide-angle navigation camera after a drive, and recognize rocks that meet specified criteria, such as rounded shape or light color. It can then center its narrower-angle panoramic camera on the chosen target and take multiple images through color filters, NASA stated. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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