SP-425 The Martian Landscape


Coloring Mars


[132] As we have already discussed in the introductory text, the problems in reconstructing the colors of the martian surface and atmosphere are formidable. It would be nice to present a folio of color pictures with the unqualified comment that these are the colors of Mars. But, after more than a year of analysis, it becomes clear that the situation will never become so simple.

In order to correct for the out of band spectral leaks in the color filters within the camera it is necessary to have access to both a color and an infrared (JR) picture taken at the same time. Only in that way can the IR contributions to the visible color, a result of camera filter design, be assessed. For the many color pictures taken without an IR companion (e.g., figs. 186, 192, and 198) detailed calibration is not possible. Instead, the three visible channels-blue, green, and red-are balanced on the assumption that there are no out of band contributions.

Even for pictures where we have both visible and IR information, two possible types of color can be created. The character of the sunlight reaching the martian surface is significantly different than that reaching Earth's surface, primarily because of scattering and absorption by suspended dust particles. In addition, a certain amount of light reflected from the yellowish brown surface finds its way back as reflected sky light.

Figures 181, 182, and 183 illustrate the range of possible color reconstructions. All three pictures are based on the same camera data. The sampling area at the Viking 1 site is shown. Two trenches in the Sandy Flats site, the first to be dug are shown at the far left. Figure 181 is produced by using only visible color information, making no allowance for IR leaks. The scene has a reddish or orangeish cast. Figure 182 is constructed by incorporating data from an accompanying IR picture and using the spacecraft's test charts, in this way accounting for out of band contributions and atmospheric colorations. The scene is shown as it might appear "on Earth." For example, if you could pick up one of the boulders and transport it to your back yard, this is the color you would observe. Note that, relative to figure 181, the reddish tint is subdued, replaced with a brown hue. Figure 183 shows the scene as it would appear "on Mars." The yellowish cast of sunlight filtering through the atmospheric dust imparts a similar yellowish hue to the entire scene.


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Figure 181

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Figure 182

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Figure 183


[134] Figure 184 is a view looking across Lander 1. Two test charts are visible. The one at the left is directly illuminated; the colors of the red, green, and blue color chips are accurately rendered. The test chart to the right is in shadow and, consequently, of little value for color calibration.

Figure 185 shows the landscape to the left of the region in figures 181 to 183. Drifts of sediment are visible in the distance. Footpad 2, at the bottom of the image, is buried by yellowish brown soil.

Figure 186 is a historic picture, the first color image to be taken on the surface of Mars. Because there was no accompanying IR image, it is not possible to compensate for irregularities in the camera color filters. The color has the same relative quality as in figure 181.


martian landscape with Viking Lander in foreground

Figures 184 [Left] & 185 [Right]

the first color photo from Mars shows it to be redish brown and scattered with small rocks

Figure 186


Figure 187 (as on Mars) and figure 188 (as on Earth) show the landscape in the vicinity of the large dark rock, "Big Joe." Note that the boulder has a crown of fine grained material. Exactly how this mantle formed is a puzzle. It may be an erosional remnant of a dust layer which formerly covered the region with a thickness of a meter or more.


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Figure 187
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Figure 188


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Figures 189, 190, 191, 192 [Left to right]

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Figure 193

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Figures 194, 195 [Left to right]

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Figure 196


[136-137] Figure 192, taken early in the Viking 1 mission, was nicknamed "The American Flag Picture" even before it was taken. During the final months of preparation before the landing NASA managers took exception to our decision to feature only the Mars surface in the first few color pictures. In particular, they emphasized the popular appeal of a color picture looking back across the spacecraft, the American flag in the foreground and the martian horizon in the distance. We temporized; they insisted. Figure 192 was the result. The photograph is both pictorially attractive and scientifically useful. The bright ridge in the distance, part of the crater rim described in figures 77, 78, and 79, catches the morning Sun. Difficulties in precisely balancing the colors are indicated by the violet hue of the blue color chip on the test chart. The relative differences in reflectance that yield a color image are illustrated by the three constituent images taken in blue light (fig. 189), green light (fig. 190), and red light (fig. 191).

Figure 193 is a view looking back across Lander 2. Dark boulders are prominent against the yellowish brown soil, standing like regularly deployed sentinels out to the far horizon.

In the course of the martian year an important surface change was observed at the Viking 2 site. During the winter months a thin layer of frost formed. This is documented by comparing two black and white pictures, the first taken early in the mission in late martian summer (fig. 194), and the second taken months later in late martian winter (fig. 195). Patches of receding frost are visible in the latter picture. During the height of winter, frost probably covered the entire surface. Figure 196 is a color image of the frost, looking across the spacecraft. The colors purposely have been distorted slightly to enhance color contrast.

The frost persists at temperatures higher than those required for frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice). It may be water ice or a carbon dioxide clathrate, a crystalline mixture of H2O and CO2.



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Figure 197

[139] The region in front of Lander 2 was photographed many times in color. In figure 197 the surface sampler shroud contrasts sharply with the remainder of the scene. Dust clings to the surface of footpad 3 and the lower part of the leg strut.

Figure 198 illustrates the operational versatility of the Viking cameras. By generating special commands we were able to combine operational modes in ways never envisioned by the original designers. In this picture the 0.12° color diodes were stepped at 0.04° intervals instead of the usual 0.12° intervals. The result is a "high resolution" color image in which spatial resolution approaches that of a black and white picture for which both aperture and stepping angle are 0.04°. The red and green patches near the rock in the upper right occur because the three blue, green, and red images that comprise the color picture were taken on successive days. In the intervening period the sampling shovel disturbed the soil. False colors result primarily from differences in shadow distribution before and after the sampling event.

Figure 199 can best be assigned to the special effects category. It illustrates one of the many ways in which black and white images can be combined and printed in color to yield unusual patterns. In this instance an early morning image is assigned the color yellow and a picture taken in the afternoon is assigned the color blue. Although colors produced in this way are completely false, important details in the scene are sometimes favorably accentuated.

Figures 200 and 202 are a related pair, nicknamed the "sundown" and "sunset" pictures. Early in the mission, when it became clear that there was a large amount of scattering particles in the lower atmosphere, we realized the potentially dramatic appeal of low Sun pictures. However, the first priority was to document the landscape with high resolution and color images. Following several weeks of successful operation on the martian surface we relaxed to the point of attempting exotic but high risk pictures. The sundown picture was taken on sol 30, just 5 min before the sunset picture. The Sun is to the right, only 4° above the horizon. When the sunset picture was taken the Sun was 2° below the local horizon. The banding in the sky is an artifact produced by the camera. The brightness actually changes continuously, moving away from the Sun, but the natural continuum is divided into incremental brightness levels by camera electronics. If the number of quantified brightness levels were much larger, then the closely spaced steps would more closely approximate the continuous gradation of the natural scene. The slightly different color from band to band is also an artifact, caused by the fact that the brightness boundaries for the three color channels are not coincident. The general tendency for the sky to become bluer in the direction of the Sun is real, caused by dominant short wave length forward scattering of light in that direction. No planets or stars are visible in the evening sky. The occasional pinpoints of color, ...

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Figure 198

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Figure 199


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Figure 200

[140] ....especially noticeable in figure 203, are artifacts caused by noise in data transmission and by mismatching during image enhancement.

Initially dismissed as little more than oddity, the sunset picture has been reproduced many times, especially in its more exotic "stretched" version (fig. 203). Admittedly, this version is more an art object than a scientific product. The colors have been specially enhanced to bring out the detail in the foreground. However, the visual impact of this computer painted scene is universal: the martian twilight envelopes the viewer.

Later in the mission the sunset picture was matched with a sunrise picture at the Viking 2 site (fig.201) Again, the Sun is several degrees below the horizon. The relatively pronounced blue shading in the sky is probably a result of early morning ice crystal fog.

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Figure 201

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Figure 202

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Figure 203