Mars database enhanced by new WUSTL software program

CRISM opens Mars to the world

A software program developed by Washington University researchers is allowing viewers access to data and some early images from the most powerful spectral camera ever sent to Mars. The information is available on NASA’s online planetary data archive.

Members of NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS) Geosciences Node, housed in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, produced the program, the Orbital Data Explorer.

Keith J. Bennett, deputy manager, operations, Geosciences Node, NASA planetary data system, and software engineer Dan Scholes, put the program together. It is a collection of tools that allows users to search, display and download PDS-archived data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and other selected Mars missions. The program is available at:

Raymond E. Arvidson, Ph.D., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the earth and planetary sciences department, is director of the Geosciences Node. The images come from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), flying aboard NASA’s MRO.

The Orbital Data Explorer also provides data sets from the imaging systems of current and past missions, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera and the Mars Express Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité spectrometer, as well as gravity data.

CRISM has been searching for mineralogical evidence of past water on the Martian surface since November 2006, when MRO settled into a science-gathering orbit around the planet.

CRISM, combined with other cameras and sensors on MRO, is providing the most detailed look yet at Martian geology, climate and surface makeup. Through its telescopic scanners, CRISM has taken more than 1,900 images of specific targets, including more than 500 at the instrument’s highest resolution that pinpoints areas down to 15 meters — or 48 feet — in 544 “colors” of reflected sunlight.

The camera also has mapped about half of the planet at lower resolution — showing areas at some 200 meters (660 feet) in 72 colors — and monitored abundances of atmospheric gases and particulates in the atmosphere, returning more than 950 separate measurements that track seasonal variations.

“The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is collecting more data, and carrying out more complex observation plans, than any other mission to Mars,” Arvidson said. “Orbital Data Explorer augments existing tools on the PDS site by providing advanced search, retrieval and order capabilities, as well as integrated analysis and visualization tools that will make it easier to examine and compare data from MRO and other missions.”

Led by scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the CRISM team already has delivered the first display of these observations to the NASA Planetary Data System. They are available at, along with several tools that make the data accessible to Web users.

Over its two-year primary mission, the orbiter will send back more data than all previous Mars missions combined. The first CRISM package, posted in the Planetary Data System’s Geosciences section, contains about 410 gigabytes of data — enough to fit on nearly 600 compact discs.

“CRISM is opening new areas of discovery on Mars and uncovering evidence of how water altered the planet over billions of years,” said Scott Murchie, CRISM principal investigator at the APL.

For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit