The Martian is easily one of the best sci-fi films out there, and part of what makes it so incredible was the intense attention to detail. The story has a pedigree of accuracy, as Andy Weir, author of the book that the movie was based on, took a lot of care in getting the science right. Even though both film and book are completely fictitious, a lot of the science is real, including the setting.
Now, NASA has released a collection of images of the real-life settings in The Martian, from Acidalia Planitia to the Marth Crater.
The images were acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a piece of equipment on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE takes incredibly detailed images of the Martian surface, giving scientists here on Earth a closer view of the planet. Many of the images taken by HiRISE are taken in sets called stereo pairs. These pairs of images can be viewed through a stereoscope–a simple instrument that can make two photographs to look like one 3D image.
Stereoscopes were very popular during the 1800’s and early 1900’s for viewing pictures as entertainment. But with the advent of aerial photography, geologists soon realized that they could repurpose this technology and make 2D pictures of topography like mountains and valleys spring to life. The scientists using HiRISE still use stereo pairs to create accurate models of what the ground surface of Mars looks like. Knowing the elevation of the surface of Mars is one of the key components of picking a safe (flat) landing site for future manned or unmanned missions. Mars, here we come!