The surface of Mars, including the landing site of Beagle 2, has been shown in unprecedented detail.
Using what they say is a revolutionary image stacking and matching technique, scientists at University College London have revealed drone-like pictures of the planet at a resolution up to five times greater than previously achieved.
They include images of the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander, the ancient lake beds discovered by Nasa’s Curiosity rover, Nasa’s Mer-A rover tracks and Home Plate’s rocks.
The team’s “super-resolution” zoomed-in image of the Beagle 2’s believed location, by Professor Mark Sims and colleagues at the University of Leicester, provides strong supporting evidence that this is the site of the lander.
Researchers stacked and matched images taken from orbit, to reveal objects at the higher resolution.
Although a paper describing the technique, called Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR), was published in Planetary and Space Science in February, it’s only recently been used to focus on specific objects on Mars.
The new technique could now be used to hunt for other artefacts from past failed landings, as well as identify safe landing areas for future rover missions.
Professor Jan-Peter Muller from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures.
“As more pictures are collected, we will see increasing evidence of the kind we have only seen from the three successful rover missions to date.
“This will be a game-changer and the start of a new era in planetary exploration.”
Even with the largest telescopes that can be launched into orbit, the level of detail that can be seen on the surface of planets is limited.
For cameras orbiting Earth and Mars, the resolution limit today is around 25cm.
But SRR allows objects as small as around 5cm to be seen from the same telescope.