This interactive lets you explore a bit of Mars in 3D. This is the real thing: a 3D model of the planet's surface created using data from orbiting spacecraft. You can:

  • examine the surface from a distance, changing lighting to enhance features, and
  • fly over the surface, looking for markers hidden in the terrain.

About 250kb: opens in new window.
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Launch Interactive

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How'd we do it?

The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has several instruments on it. Two are imagers that take pictures of the planet. Another is MOLA: the Mars Orbiting Laser Altimeter. MOLA bounces a laser off Mars and records the time it takes to return to the spacecraft. From that it can calculate its distance to the planet to within a bit over a foot. MOLA does this over and over, methodically mapping out the surface of the planet.

The MOLA science team has used that data to create an elevation map of Mars. And that can be used to create a 3D mesh of the planet. Images from the orbiting cameras are then draped over that mesh to create a 3D world.

More like this

You can play with this same interactive for other parts of this site as well:

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Mars Global Surveyor at JPL

MOLA at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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