VMC Gets Special Mention in Europlanet Outreach Award

The VMC team at ESOC were very happy to learn that they had been given a special mention from the Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2010. It is awarded to individuals or groups who have developed innovative practices in planetary science communication and whose efforts have significantly contributed to a wider public engagement with planetary science. The main award was won by Dr Jean Lilensten of the Laboratoire de Planétologie de Grenoblefor his long standing work magic of planetary aurora with school children and members of the public across Europe, using his ‘planeterrella’ experiment.

The VMC team are proud and excited to receive this terrific special mention from an organisation that lies at the heart of planetary science in Europe. The testimonies that go with the special mention reflect exactly what we hope to achieve with the Mars Webcam and it is gratifying to receive this recognition for the project.

Thomas Ormston (left), Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Engineer, Dr. Thierry Fouchet (middle), Outreach Coordinator for Europlanet, Dr Olivier Witasse, ESA's Project Scientist for Mars Express

The Mars Webcam project aims to bring the excitement and interest of planetary exploration direct to educational institutions and the public by making you our scientists and investigators. We often say VMC is "an ordinary camera in an extraordinary location," but the results submitted to our blog by you show just how extraordinary the results from the VMC can be, too.

The whole VMC team thanks the Europlanet Outreach Steering Committee for awarding us this special mention. We also would like to thank all those within ESA who have supported the project. Of course you - the visitors and contributors to the VMC blog - share this accolade with us, since it has been your support that makes the Mars Webcam a success!

A presentation on the VMC and the Mars Webcam Blog (including sincere thanks from the whole VMC team to the EPSC folks) was given at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome today. Here we took the chance to explain how much of a success VMC has been and how the participation of the general public in the exploration of Mars is something that helps bring the data from Mars alive.

Please do keep visiting the blog and submitting your interpretations of VMC images and help keep the project as dynamic and interesting as it has always been. More information is available at the “Help us with VMC” link on the right. -- Thomas

Haze in Valles Marineris by Peter Wellmann

We have an excellent submission to share with you as today's Friday treat: a poster project entitled 'Haze in Valles Marineris by Peter Wellmann'.

Peter has created a beautiful enhanced image and a poster highlighting atmospheric haze high above Valles Marineris; these are based on four VMC images acquired on 9 October 2008 (proving the point that archived data can have value years after it was collected) when Mars Express was orbiting about 7500 km above the surface.

Peter's first image shows a beautiful, long wispy streak of haze running over the entire Valles Marineris surface system - at more than 4000 km long, 200 km wide and 7 km deep, the Valles Marineris rift system is the largest-known canyon in the Solar System (and is much larger than North America's puny Grand Canyon). His poster includes many additional details of surface geography and clouds.

We were really impressed with the analysis that Peter did prior to starting image enhancement work - which was a challenge due to the considerable amount of movement by Mars Express during the 3.5-minute slot in which the four raw images were acquired. This work follows on Peter's earlier submission, North polar cap - posters by Peter Wellmann, posted on 18 August.

Thanks, Peter, for an excellent submission! (Click on 'Full story' to access more details and the full-size versions of the images). -- Daniel Scuka

The original Mars Webcam images (Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7) can be found in the 9.10.2008 set here.

First, here are Peter's two images (his explanatory text is below).



















Peter writes:

"The picture of Valles Marineris: About 7500 km out from Mars, Mars Express VMC shot a sequence of pictures showing interesting details. The whole system of Valles Marineris is drowned in a white haze. The large crater to the right seems to be Lowell crater, hiding its interesting inner ring-feature below haze. Originating from Arsia Mons a large cloud is visible that is getting lost in the dark of the terminator.

Viewing the raw-material from 2008/10/09, we had the idea that the hazy patch seen at the terminator in the region of Arsia Mons could be some kind of reflection, but studying the other frames of the sequence showed that this rather is a true structure on Mars. Reaching into the dark of the terminator, it must be high above the ground - probably a large cloud originating near Arsia Mons.

For processing it was decided to use four raw frames to reduce noise, taking into account that this would not deliver a perfect result due to the considerable movement of Mars Express during the 3.5 minutes slot the pictures were taken.

•      08-283_04.27.15_VMC_Img_No_3 ('red' image)
•      08-283_04.28.08_VMC_Img_No_4 ('blue' image)
•      08-283_04.29.01_VMC_Img_No_5 ('blue' image)
•      08-283_04.30.47_VMC_Img_No_7 ('red' image)

Using vmc_flat.raw flatfield and vmc2rgb.exe tools, the pictures were converted from .raw to .png files. The VMC flatfield works fine - at the time being there is only one larger defect that is not corrected sufficiently. After resizing to 150 percent, the two red and blue pictures were stacked. After cutting out the overexposed part with a feathered selection, the blue result was stacked to the red result with 60% transparency. As expected, the rapid movement of Mars Express became a problem, we could not find a perfect fit for the stacked frames. Having no special (and expensive) software for this purpose, we adjusted this sufficiently for a medium quality result only. The final picture was sharpened with a Mexican Hat filter, then high frequency noise was reduced with the software Neat Image, sacrificing some sharpness again.

Finally, Photoshop was used to give the picture the 'final touch" by carefully removing known artifacts of VMC, adjusting levels and colour saturation and cleaning the dark background of the picture. When adjusting levels and colour, a mask for white with a tolerance of 60 and feathered edges of 3 pixels was used to emphasize the hazy area of Valles Marineris."

Thanks Peter!