Researchers have discovered a method to create high-resolution maps of planetary surfaces like that of the moon by combining available imagery and topographic data.
Mapping the complex and diverse surface of such a world The moon in detailed resolution is challenging because laser altimeters, which measure changes in elevation, operate at a much lower resolution than cameras. And although the photographs offer a sense of surface features, it is difficult to translate the images into specific heights and depths.
However, a new method combines topographic data with the degree of sunlight shading present in optical images to provide much more accurate estimates of landforms and structures. The development could help both astronauts and robotic explorers in the future.
The new method was developed by Iris Fernandez, now a former doctor of philosophy. student at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Different missions provide very different data resolutions, so combining different data sources at different resolutions presents a huge mathematical problem. What Fernandez and her supervisor at the time, geophysicist Klaus Mosegaard, did differently was to focus on the mathematics of the problem, narrowing the challenge to determine whether a single equation could solve the problem.
“And he did,” Fernandez said in a statement (opens in 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 computing power and is much faster than previous methods, according to the researchers.
Researchers demonstrated the technique on the moon. By combining high-resolution images from NASA Lunar Reconnaissance OrbiterLROC data camera with lower resolution than the spacecraft’s Lunar Orbiting Laser Altimeter (LOLA), the paper’s authors say they increased the resolution of the topography from about 200 feet (60 meters) per pixel to 2.95 feet ( 0.9 m) per pixel.
In the future, the authors say, the method could be applied to extract precise topographic details on rock formations on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, asteroids and any other worlds for which topographic data is available.
The method can support a range of different purposes, including determining the safety of astronauts and rovers or finding geologically interesting locations, and can be applied to images from satellites, rovers or other spacecraft.
The research is described in an article published June 8 in the journal Planetary and space science (opens in new tab).