NYU Abu Dhabi professor creates atlas of Mars using Hope probe data

The map aims to show how the Red Planet changes over time

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A professor at New York University Abu Dhabi has created an atlas of Mars using data from the UAE’s Hope probe.

The spacecraft has been orbiting the Red Planet for almost a year, making observations of the upper and lower atmosphere, and studying its dynamic weather system.

Dr Dimitra Atri, a research scientist at NYUAD, told The National that the initial version of the atlas would show details of the regions and features of the planet in high resolution.

A later, more detailed, version would show how Mars changes with time, including daily and seasonal variations, once more data from Hope is released.

It would be possible for us to show how Mars changes with time, which was not possible earlier
Dr Dimitra Atri, NYU Abu Dhabi

Other researchers have created maps but none have been able to illustrate the weather changes the planet experiences at different times of the day and during different seasons.

“Since the Emirates Mars Mission provides a synoptic view of the planet, it would be possible for us to show how Mars changes with time, which was not possible earlier," said Dr Atri, who leads the Mars Research Group at NYUAD’s Centre for Space Science.

"We plan to show this for the entire planet.”

The Hope probe is circling the planet in an elliptical orbit that allows it to observe from much further away than any other spacecraft.

Its strategic position will help researchers create a global image of the planet.

Last month, the Emirati team behind the mission released data that showed water ice clouds engulfing Mars at different times of the day.

The previous spacecraft were much closer to the surface and could record weather at specific times of the day only.

“The idea is to produce an atlas which will be of use both for the global scientific community and the public at large,” Dr Atri said.

“Having followed this mission for a very long time, it gives me great satisfaction to not only study the planet to solve research problems but to share it with the wider community.”

The atlas highlights key regions, including the Tharsis area that is home to the largest volcanoes in the solar system.

Once the atlas is published on NYUAD’s website later this month, it will be updated regularly with the new data sets that will be released by the Hope team every three months.

A second edition of the atlas will show the auroras, variations of cloud cover, dust, ozone and polar ice caps on the planet.

Dr Atri said they have produced a high-resolution composite colour map of Mars by combining more than 50 images taken by the Emirates Exploration Imager – a high-resolution camera on board the Hope probe.

The atlas also has a co-ordinate system like most Earth maps.

“We have a set of images showing the entire disk of the planet and we highlight all the regions of Mars. We then focus on individual features and describe them in detail,” he said.

Dr Atri’s students have helped with the project. They include Ahmed Al Hantoobi, Katerina Fialova, Shamsheer Singh and postdoctoral fellow Dattaraj Dhuri.

Mr Al Hantoobi, a 22-year-old Emirati, said the intention was to create an atlas with the highest definition.

“Usually, researchers use Mola (Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter) topography for georeferencing, but we wanted to help create a visual data set that can be generated in various resolutions to match that of any current or previous data set.

“Yes, there have been atlases before, but this one would be of exceptional resolution and detail.”

Apart from the science community, Mr Al Hantoobi believes the project will also benefit young people, helping inspire them into pursuing science and engineering careers.

He said open access to the atlas will help school pupils and university students learn more about Mars.

“When I was growing up about 10 to 15 years ago, I wasn’t exposed to such a career option because there wasn’t such a thriving space sector,” he said.

“Now, the youth have that option to pursue a career path in science and engineering. The atlas could help stimulate young minds and inspire them to become experts in the field.”

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Updated: January 12, 2022, 11:11 AM