How research is setting eyes on Mars

Images from Mars: A recent publication on their interpretation and 3D visualization.

3D reconstruction from Mastcam-Z camera stereo images of the Boston Knob Formation.
3D reconstruction from Mastcam-Z camera stereo images of the Boston Knob Formation. Foto: NASA/JPL/CalTech/MSSS/ASU/USGS/JR/VRVis/ÖAW

Since the Mars Rover Perseverance sent the first image to Earth on February 19, 2021, an enormous amount of (image) data has been generated. Researchers have to combine, interpret and visualize this data into a big picture. However, creating lifelike 3D visualizations from the multitude of data and extracting meaningful information from them is highly complex. Gerhard Paar of DIGITAL, the Institute for Digital Technologies at JOANNEUM RESEARCH, together with a 19-member international research team, recently published a comprehensive state-of-the-art report on three-dimensional data preparation within the Mars 2020 mission.

Austrian research

On the Austrian side, JOANNEUM RESEARCH and the VRVis Center for Virtual Reality and Visualization, whose researchers developed the PRo3D PRo3D visualization tool, as well as the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) are involved in the Mars 2020 mission for the 3D data analysis. "For the first time, we have investigated and summarized the interaction and synergies of the different 3D tools used in the course of the Mars 2020 mission", explains first author Gerhard Paar. A stereo camera attached to the Perseverance rover – the Mastcam-Z – and other cameras that provide the data serve as the basis for generating three-dimensional images. VRVis researcher Christoph Traxler explains the state of the art: "The PRo3D Planetary Robotics 3D Viewer provides measurement and visualization tools necessary for geological interpretation. It is used for the production of illustrations in publications as well as high-resolution videos, which are also essential for low-threshold science communication. Our tools are involved in studies of the surface properties of the Martian soil as well as geological analyses at distances up to about 100 meters." The interactive 3D reconstruction allows planetary scientists to perform realistic exploration and analysis that renders that in the field. According to Christian Koeberl (University of Vienna/ÖAW), this will make a significant contribution to understanding the Martian climate of the last three billion years, the history and regression of water on Mars, and the explanation of geological processes.

Visualization tools create the big picture

In total, there are close to 10 3D vision tools in use on this massive cross-national project within the Mars 2020 mission that enable 3D modeling and 3D visualization, some of which are publicly available. The tools are used to reconstruct the surface of Mars from the imagery and create 3D data products with a wide variety of information about the Martian surface. Examples include elevation or range maps that record the 3D coordinates of each point. When combined with data from other sensors or sources – including 3D models from satellites – and at various scales, the interpretation and location of the processed products is further enhanced. The three-dimensional data products are then used for rover navigation, accurate visualization of the Martian surface, and precise spatial surveys - in some cases more accurate than on Earth using GPS. The 3D vision processing and visualization is an essential mission-wide toolset for resolving important planetary science questions such as the prevailing wind direction at different epochs, soil composition, or geological origin.



  • Here you find the publication "Three-Dimensional Data Preparation and Immersive Mission-Spanning Visualization and Analysis of Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z Stereo Image Sequences", G. Paar et al., 2023.
  • Videos from Mars (Pro3D Space)
  • NASA news about the Mars-2020-Mission


Austrian Partners

  • VRVis - Center for Virtual Reality and Visualization
  • ÖAW - Austrian Academy of Sciences