Soar Over the Likely Mars Landing Site of Europe's ExoMars Rover in This 3D Animation

Feel like going for a spin around Mars? A new video shows a 3D view of where the European-Russian ExoMars (opens in new tab) rover may land, in a region that was likely filled with water billions of years ago.

The video shows the terrain that the rover, named Rosalind Franklin (opens in new tab), will likely drive upon after its scheduled landing in 2021. In the middle of the view is an eroded crater, luckily with flat terrain toward the center, which would give Rosalind Franklin a safe area in which to touch down and wander. The crater is located in Oxia Planum, a plain located in Mars' northern hemisphere, just southwest of Mawrth Vallis, one of the biggest valleys on Mars.

The European Space Agency explained that this region could be rich with signs of past life. Rosalind Franklin is optimized to look for signs of biosignatures, including detecting organic molecules (opens in new tab) that could have arisen from life processes.

Related: ExoMars Will Land in 1 of These 2 Spots on Mars in 2021 (opens in new tab)
Video: See the ExoMars Rover's Proposed Landing Site in 3D (opens in new tab)

A close-up view of Oxia Planum on Mars from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

"Oxia Planum lies at the boundary where many channels emptied into the vast lowland plains," ESA said in a statement (opens in new tab). "Observations from orbit show that the region exhibits layers of clay-rich minerals that were formed in wet conditions some four billion years ago, likely in a large body of standing water."

The video is based on high-resolution images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (opens in new tab), using the close-up views available from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on board. Technicians took a few steps to translate the single-dimensional pictures into a 3D-rich video.

A 3D rendition of a crater at Oxia Planum on Mars. The European Space Agency's ExoMars 2020 rover may land here in 2021. (Image credit: ESA)

First, they took the raw images and combined them to form "stereo" images, which are a combination of two images that were taken of the same region but from slightly different angles. This produces an interim, 3D image. In flat regions such as Oxia Planum, however, the result is not very three dimensional.

So scientists at TU Dortmund University in Germany used a technique called "shape from shading," which involves translating the intensity of light reflected off the Martian surface into information about the surface slopes, ESA explained. The resulting 3D image provides a better estimate of the landing zone, even showing off small terrain differences in dune ripples.

These models were presented at the European Planetary Science Congress-Division for Planetary Sciences joint meeting in Geneva on Monday (Sept. 16).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace