Berlin - Sick of strolling the same streets? Take a walk on Mars instead.
Researchers at Berlin's Freie Universität (FU) have published an interactive map of the Jezero Crater where Nasa's Perserverance rover landed last Thursday. The Google Earth-style map lets you check out the surface of Mars from your couch. We asked Martian mapmaker Sebastian Walter to give us a tour.
"This map is, so to speak, a section of what we're doing globally for Mars," explains FU researcher Walter, who, together with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin-Adlershof, aims to map the entire surface of of the planet. The researchers have already used images from the orbiting Mars-Express satelite to create a 3D preview of the Jezero Crater and its surroundings.
The scientists have created a mini-tour using the material. Go to maps.planet.fu-berlin.de/jezero. Clicking on one of nine vantage points offers still images of Mars in 3D that can be rotated for a 36o-degree view. You'll hear a sound over your speaker. "That's supposed to be wind," Walter explains - based on real recordings.
The desert landscape doesn't look particularly welcoming: "Very cold, no air, dusty." It's currently about minus 60 degrees on our neighbouring planet.
Making Mars inhabitable
Despite the hostile environment, Walter believes that people could spend significant amounts of time there some day. "It's feasible. It's just a question of how much effort you put into it." In another FU project, scientists are researching how to detoxify and fertilise the soil to grow food. At the TU Berlin, others are investigating whether houses could be built from Mars mud. And Perseverance has a device on board meant to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
For a tour of Mars, mapmaker Walter recommends starting at a high point to get an overview. For example, the unnamed 2,000m mountain to the southeast of Jezero Crater. Then check out the lowlands, which probably once contained a lake billions of years ago. The FU researchers have even added water to their visualisation. The landing site was chosen so that Perseverance could search for possible traces of ancient Martian life.
Click on "i" for explanatory texts about what you're looking at. The glasses icon opens a view that gives you a 360-degree panorama designed for use with VR googles.
Is the red planet red at all?
Most of Mars remains unmapped. It's not even clear if the planet is really red.
"It's actually more of a brown tone, due to the high iron content in the soil. It has oxidised, which is why everything is rust-coloured," explains Walter. But no one knows yet whether a human eye would actually recognise this colour.
Would the cartographer be tempted to travel to Mars one day? "No," says Walter, with surprising certainty. Every time he looks at the images from Mars he appreciates the beauty of Earth. Nor does he share a fascination of settling there one day and terraforming the planet to meet human needs: "That sounds like: 'We'll get everything out of our current planet and then just move on to the next one.'"