There are lots of incredible things you can do with data. Like make this incredible animation of the Martian surface, for example.

This animation is the latest from visual artist Seán Doran, using real data taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (MRO) Of course, it’s not actual video footage, and required a lot of processing to achieve the realistic effect. But it does give the exciting impression that one is flying just above the Martian surface.

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“The quality and fidelity of the data products HiRISE provides enables a virtual photograph to be taken of the Martian surface,” Doran told Gizmodo in a Twitter direct message. “It’s not as good as being there, but it’s the next best thing!”

The updated dataset depicts the Gorgonum Chaos—rugged, crevice-filled terrain supposedly shaped by water in the Martian southern hemisphere. The HiRISE camera records visible light in very high resolution from the MRO, around 200 miles above Mars’ surface. It’s used to select sites for landers and potentially humans, according to a University of Arizona webpage.

A raw file of the Gorgonum Chaos
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS

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So, how do you make videos of the Martian surface? HiRISE collects high-resolution elevation data, Doran explained. He uses Blender, the 3D graphics software, to turn the data into a 3D mesh, which is then optimized given how complex the dataset is. He further processes the textures in Photoshop, where he also enhances the details. He combines and renders everything in 3DS Max software, adds skies in Photoshop, and animates the whole thing using After Effects. Again, it’s not a true photograph of Mars—it required some artistic sensibility (and a lot of work) in order to look this way.

As you’ve probably figured out by know, images of space require processing, and often receive some artistic interpretation. Doran himself processes lots of Jupiter images, creating image files that often look like paintings. If you want to create images of your own, you can usually find the raw files online on the respective experiment’s website. If you just want the finished stuff, Doran shares loads of pictures on his Twitter and Flickr. There’s a whole community of folks who also make and process these images.

The Red Planet offers plethora of source material for those who create this kind of space art. “Mars does make it easy though,” said Doran. “The planet is filled with alien and exotic landscapes.”

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