The crowd-science trend has reached Mars. Students and amateur scientists can now explore the Red Planet online, using software released today by Microsoft Resarch based on NASA images.
Though many of the images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are already available on the space agency’s Web site, Microsoft has now loaded them into its WorldWide Telescope interface, which creates a way for users to easily pan around the images to see them in context, and presents them in higher resolution than previously available online.
“You can actually see rover tracks on the Martian surface,” said Dan Fay, director of earth, energy, and environment for Microsoft Research, in an interview.
The WorldWide Telescope software is free but only runs on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. A Web interface of the system is available, but the Mars images are not yet available there. The company’s research division teamed up with astronomers to build the Web-based telescope to experiment with better ways to manage and analyze large data sets (so the company can improve its Bing search engine and its software). Meanwhile, some professors and schoolteachers use the Web telescope in their classrooms, and anyone online is encouraged to scour the images to find unique features of Mars that professional researchers might have missed.
The new software was released at Microsoft Research’s annual Faculty Summit, which this year attracted about 300 computer-science researchers.