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Postcard from the edge. NASA delivers a billion pixel photo from Mars

June 20, 2013 - Art Smith

NASA shared something pretty out of this world this week when it shared a billion pixel photo from Mars.

Shot with a variety of cameras that are onboard the rover Curiosity, the photo allows desktop explorers everywhere to examine it from more than 34 million miles away in extreme details.

The higher the number of pixels in a photo, the clearer the image. A billion pixels means the photo is extremely sharp, and you can zoom into it to see extreme details.

Exactly how do you get a billion of anything from Mars to your laptop? Well you do it a pixel at a time, sort of.

A pixel is a tiny little square. A single pixel will be a single color, or more accurately a single shade of gray. The pixel will have a value that can be displayed in a digital format such as 00100110. Digital data can be transmitted long distances without errors. It’s what allow the Internet to work, and it is what allows pixels to be transmitted from million of miles away and then reassembled as a photo on the other end. The tiny squares appear to the eye as continous shades of grays and color.

All digital photos of course, are made of pixels;. In fact cameras are sold with the number of pixels they generate used as a selling point. Large photos can produce stunning wall-sized prints. Most people don’t need them that big and are actually wasting hard drive space by saving huge files.

Storage is not an issue in the case of the billion pixel Mars photo, which is actually around 900 photos that have been digitally joined to appear as a single panorama photo. The photos were taken, then transmitted to an orbiting satellite and then transmitted to earth.

Once assembled in useable form, the photo was made available to web users who can zoom and rotate the 360-degree photo however they please.

The effect is stunning and allows anyone with Internet access to view the image and do some exploring of their own.

Some armchair astronauts thought they spotted a rat on Mars a few weeks ago when they were “exploring” the planet. NASA scientists are pretty sure it’s a rock, but only a Martian would know for sure.

The Internet allows people to take a glimpse of things they would never be able to see if it didn’t exist, even a rock on Mars that looks like a rat.



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