New mapping method could help explore the Moon, Mars and more

Researchers have discovered a method for creating high-resolution maps of planetary surfaces, such as the surface of the Moon, by combining available images and topographic data.

Mapping the complex and varied surface of a world like the Moon at detailed resolution is challenging because laser altimeters, which measure changes in altitude, operate at a much lower resolution than cameras. While photographs give a sense of surface features, it is difficult to translate images into specific height and depth.

However, the new method combines topographic data with the degrees of sunlight shading present in optical images to provide a much more accurate assessment of topography and structures. The development could help both astronauts and robot explorers in the future.

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The new method was developed by Iris Fernandez, now a former PhD student at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Different missions provide very different data resolutions, so combining different data sources at different resolutions is a huge mathematical challenge. What Fernandez and her then supervisor, geophysicist Klaus Mosegaard, did differently was to focus on the mathematics of the problem, narrowing down the problem to determine if the equation could solve the problem.

“And it happened,” Fernandes said in a statement. (will open in a new tab)explaining that they had found “a mathematical key to a door that had remained closed for many years.”

The new approach also requires much less processing power and is much faster than previous methods, the researchers said.

Researchers have demonstrated the technique on the moon. By combining high resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC camera with lower resolution data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), the paper’s authors claim they have increased the resolution of the topography from about 200 feet (60 meters). per pixel up to 2.95 feet (0.9 m) per pixel.

In the future, the authors argue, this method could be used to extract precise topographic details of rock formations on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and any other worlds for which topographic data is available.

This method can be used for a variety of purposes, including determining the safety of astronauts and rovers or finding geologically interesting sites, and it can be applied to images from satellites, rovers, or other spacecraft.

The study is described in an article published June 8 in the journal Planetary and Space Science. (will open in a new tab).

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