These NASA Tools Let You Explore Mars in 3D, Track Perseverance Rover

NASA has created two fascinating interactive tools that enable internet users to track the agency's Perseverance rover on Mars and explore the terrain surrounding the vehicle.

Perseverance touched down on the red planet in February this year, landing in the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater.

The first interactive experience—called "Explore with Perseverance"—is a 3D simulation of the Martian surface that enables you to view what the rover sees as it travels around the red planet.

While the rover explores Mars, the images it takes are mapped onto the virtual terrain of the simulation to fill in the landscape of the Jezero Crater landing site.

Users can choose to explore several different locations in the crater where Perseverance reached significant milestones.

For example, users can look around the rover's location between Sol (a martian day) 180 and 196, when Perseverance collected its first core samples from a rocky ridge overlooking a field of dunes.

You can also see the site where Perseverance touched down on the martian surface on February 18, 2021. This site was informally named after the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler.

In addition, users can explore the area where the Perseverance team first deployed the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which made history by performing the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The Explore with Perseverance tool uses images taken by the rover's various different cameras, as well as images captured by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter overhead.

"It's the best reconstruction available of what Mars looks like," Parker Abercrombie, a senior software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said in a statement.

The engineer said the tool, which will be updated regularly, will help people to gain a better understanding of the terrain that the rover is moving through.

"It's sometimes hard for people to grasp location and distance from Mars images. It's not like here on Earth, where you can get your bearings by looking at trees and buildings. With the martian terrain, it can be really hard to wrap your head around what you're seeing," he said.

The second interactive tool created by NASA—called "Where Is Perseverance?"—shows the current location of both the rover and Ingenuity as they explore the red planet. The map is updated after every drive and flight, enabling users to track the progress of the two vehicles.

The map enables you to see the routes that the rover and helicopter have taken to reach their current locations, including the various stopping points.

The helicopter tends to have short bursts of activity in between lulls that may last for a couple of weeks.

The rover, meanwhile, travels more often, albeit not as far as the helicopter. On its longest drive to date, the rover traveled around 142 yards.

"When we find a geologically interesting spot, we'll stop for a week or so to check it out," Fred Calef, a mapping specialist at JPL, said in the statement.

One of Perseverance's main goals is searching for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. Researchers think the Jezero Crater was once home to a river delta billions of years ago, making it a promising spot to explore.

The rover will examine the geology and past climate of Mars, paving the way for future human exploration of the red planet.

NASA's Explore with Perseverance experience
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is shown at its landing site, Jezero Crater, in this screenshot from the “Explore with Perseverance” 3D web experience. NASA/JPL-Caltech