Digital Secrets: How the Mars Probe Makes Great Photos

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  01 January 2004
Digital Secrets: How the Mars Probe Makes Great Photos

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"NASA's Spirit Rover is providing a lesson to aspiring digital photographers: Spend your money on the lens, not the pixels.

Anyone who has ever agonized over whether to buy a 3-megapixel or 4-megapixel digital camera might be surprised to learn that Spirit's stunningly detailed images of Mars are made with a 1-megapixel model, a palm-sized 9-ounce marvel that would be coveted in any geek's shirt pocket.

Spirit's images are IMAX quality, mission managers say.
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Images



The Pancam sits atop the rover's mast in this artist's conception. It has a humans-eye view of Mars and makes IMAX-quality pictures.





The Pancam's CCD housing, with the CCD is covered by a protective piece of orange Kapton tape.






A rear view of the Pancam lens barrel assembly. The CCD housing assembly attaches to the rear of the lens assembly.






Several CCDs for the Mars Rovers were manufactured on a single 6-inch silicon wafer. Each is bigger -- and better -- than what you get in a consumer digital camera. For size comparison, a ruler and two Canadian coins are included.

Robotic Rockhounds: Twin Mars Rovers to Use High-Tech Tools
The word pixel is derived from the term "picture element." A pixel is the smallest dot of information that goes into making a digital image. One megapixel is a million pixels set up in an array equal to 1,000 by 1,000.

Intuitively, more pixels means higher resolution. That's generally true on a display screen. But when capturing images, where a pixel is more properly called a sensor, the count is just one of many factors that control quality"


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  01 January 2006
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