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September 30th, 2006 - Visualizing Science
Seeing Science in Everyday Life

Date: Saturday, September 30th, 2006, at 11:09
Subject: High-Resolution Abstract Art
Security: Public
Location:New York, New York
Music:Cocteau Twins
Tags:elizabeth kessler, mars, mars express, mars reconnaissance orbiter

Having blogged remote sensing on Earth in my last post, I guess I should make the leap to remote sensing on Mars…

So, what annoys me about the way the press release describes the above image is that, although the story is “the highest-resolution camera ever to orbit Mars,” the reader is given no sense of scale. You have to go to the caption on the mission webpage to find out that the resolution is about a foot per pixel. If nothing else, the press release could indicate the size of something in the image—for example, the small crater in the lower right-hand corner is about 15 feet across (I checked).

To be honest, I’d like to see a graphic scale on the image, marking out a distance of, say, 100 feet. But that ruins the aesthetic that has started to develop around NASA images. Images from the rovers have their own appeal, but the Mars orbiters send back images that function more as abstract art (take, for example, the Mars Express image of Aureum Chaos). A little scale in the corner of the image would ruin that. I have in mind Elizabeth Kessler’s thesis about Hubble images and their relationship to American culture as I write this.
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