Hiking maps for Mars

The first topographic maps show the Martian landscape in detail

Topographic map of the planet surface. © TU Berlin, Image Data: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
Read out

Although no one has yet entered the soil of Mars, the first Martian "maps" for this have already been made: Scientists have now produced the first large-scale topographic maps of the planet's surface using the high-resolution HRSC camera aboard the Mars Express probe. They should also facilitate the preparation of future Mars missions.

The new maps detail the contour lines and structures in the Iani Chaos region. This region was chosen because it has particularly diverse and interesting landscape forms for research. The terrain is covered over and over with individual blocks of rock and hills. These "islands" are the remains of a previous, older Martian landscape. They stopped while the intervening areas were lowered as caves broke beneath the surface. Perhaps these caves were originally filled with ice, but this was heated and melted by the volcanic activity. The meltwater flowed away and flowed towards Ares Vallis, the northern plains of Mars.

The research team headed by Gerhard Neukum from the Free University of Berlin has now produced maps in the scales 1: 200, 000 to 1: 50, 000 for the evaluation of the HRSC images. For this purpose, they first created three-dimensional terrain models from the camera data, so-called Digital Terrain Models (DTMs). Then, using this elevation information, they superimposed the high-resolution images of the Martian surface with contour lines that indicate the contour lines. At a scale of 1: 200, 000, these lines are 250 meters apart; at a scale of 1: 50, 000, they indicate the height differences in increments of 50 meters.

Such topographic maps are used on Earth as classic hiking maps, but are also used for field research and planning by authorities and institutions. The HRSC camera on board the Mars Express probe is now to gradually collect the data base for topographic maps of the entire Martian surface. The result would be 10, 372 map sheets in the scale 1: 200, 000. However, this presupposes that the mapping program will not be run as before under purely German funding, but will continue at European level.

(ESA, 14.02.2007 - NPO) Display