Mars in 3D
The Red Planet is being studied under the watchful eyes of NASA and the Mars rover named Perseverance. Launched in the summer of 2020, with a successful landing in February 2021, Perseverance is the latest and greatest of a series of Mars rovers. Each rover is fitted with a host of sensors and cameras to gather data and imagery from our celestial neighbor.
Included in the equipment is MASTCAM-Z. It is the rover’s most impressive camera. The camera is actually a two camera system that works together to produce 3D stereoscopic images. In fact the above panoramic image of Mars was a “Selfie” made with multiple images taken with MASTCAM-Z.
There are many ways to produce and visualize images in 3D but they all have one thing in common, the images are produced by carefully combining two images taken from two parallel cameras. This is how we see our daily life in 3D, with depth perception as our brain processes the images from our two eyes.
Our sense of depth perception, which is our ability to determine how far an object is from us is produced in the brain from the processing of the separate images captured by each eye. When the two images arrive simultaneously at the back of the brain they are united into one image. Our eyes see the target object from a slightly different angle. The small differences add up to a big difference in the final picture. It gives us a three-dimensional stereo view of our world.
You can get a feel for how your brain processes separate images in this activity. The shifting of the background behind the target image from the two different locations of the viewer’s eyes results in the concept known as parallax. This is a key concept to understanding how we can make 3D images of Mars and other bodies in space.
You can see this effect in action by holding your thumb out and following the instructions. You can do this activity indoors or outdoors.
- Stretch out your arm in front of your face and give a thumbs up.
- Leaving your arm still close your left eye and note where your thumb appears in relationship to the fixed objects in the background.
- Now close your right eye and open the left eye. Note that even though you didn’t move your arm, the position of your thumb relative to the background has shifted slightly to the right compared to when your other eye was open.
- Repeat the switching of your eyes from right to left eye and back. This is known as parallax.
Your brain processes the two images simultaneously and gives you depth perception. Because the shift was fairly slight, your brain tells you that your thumb was pretty far away from your eyes. But how does the image change when something is closer? Do you think the background shift will be greater, lesser or the same?
- Repeat Part 1.
- Now move your thumb so that it is very close to your face, and repeat Part 1 again.
- What did you notice?
- Did you notice that the closer your thumb got, the greater the background seemed to shift?
- Print out the template on card stock, or print off on regular paper. If using regular paper you will need to cut out the template on the dark lines and trace the template onto sturdier oaktag, or poster board.
- After printing or tracing the template cut out the pieces, including the eyeholes.
- Tape the ear pieces to the glass frame using the clear plastic tape.
- Option 1 – If you have access to the red and blue acetate or report covers, cut pieces of each color to make the lenses. Make sure to cut the acetate or plastic a little larger than the eyehole opening. Try to make sure the tape doesn’t cover the acetate or plastic as you secure the lens material to the frame. IMPORTANT – tape the red lens to the left eyehole and the blue lens to the right
- Option 2 – If you were not able to obtain the colored acetate you can still use clear packing tape and markers to make your own lenses. Follow the instructions above to print, cut and trace the glass frames. You can make your own lenses by placing the clear packing tape to both the front of the eyeholes as well as the back of the eyeholes. You make a “sandwich” of tape so that the glue is in between.
IMPORTANT – Now take the red permanent marker and completely cover the left eyehole and tape. Then take the blue permanent marker and completely cover the right eyehole of the tape.
The reason for the two colors is to allow your brain to process the Mars images into 3D stereoscopic images. It is traditional in anaglyph images to color the image in this manner so that every time you view the images they will always process the proper way.
- Use your favorite markers or crayons to decorate and personalize your glasses.
- Make a RoverView 3D Mask. If you want to take your glasses to the next level, print out the RoverView 3D Glass Template. You can attach your glasses to this Perseverance rover inspired MASTCAM – Z overlay. You could just use this overlay rather than the traditional glass frames. If you do use this template, use a popsicle stick to hold the lenses to your view.
Derived from the JPL activity:
- Print out the RoverView template. If your printer allows double sided, flip along right edge. If not you may wish to print the two separate images and either tape or glue them together.
- Cut around the outside edge of the templates. Then cut out the inner squares to make holes for your lenses.
- Attach your 3D glasses to the RoverView template with clear tape. Remember the red lens goes on the left side the blue lens goes on the right side.
- *If you are using this RoverView template as the frame, refer back to the instructions in “Building your 3D Glasses” instruction.
- Use markers, crayons, and stickers to decorate your own MASTCAM-Z stereoscopic camera.
Enjoy viewing the 3D images in this packet or you can view dozens of cool 3D NASA images from this site:
You can also view 3D anaglyph videos of Mars here:
You can learn more about Perseverance’s mission here: