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Using Virtual Reality to replicate "in situ" field work on Mars


Planetary Geology, the study of planetary surfaces and morphologies of the planets and moons of the solar system, relies on data gathered by robotic probes (orbiters, landers, rovers) sent throughout the system. These data are returned to Earth for analysis and interpretation of the geological properties of the different planetary bodies. However, only one of these planetary bodies has been visited by humankind until now, Earth’s Moon (Luna), by 6 manned missions of the Apollo program. This means that exploration and understanding of the other bodies rely on remote data, whose characterization might sometime be tricky, particularly due to the lack of “in-person” approach. To try and overcome these problematics, the growing use of 3D reconstructions and their integration within Virtual Reality (VR) environments is enabling us to visualize and experience with unprecedented accuracy the geological data returned by probes. This is notably the case with the sedimentary record of the planet Mars, as 3D shape and spatial distribution of the sedimentary structures observed there by the rovers of different missions have critical importance to understand the past environments associated with stable liquid water at the surface. In this work, we focus on the geological characterization of the Kimberley outcrop in Gale crater, Mars. This outcrop was traversed by the Curiosity rover of the Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2014. While a detrital record deposited in a fluvial environment is understood for this outcrop, its stratigraphic relationships within this series and with its immediate to local surroundings are still poorly constrained, highlighting the need for a finer characterization of the sedimentary record. As part of the European Horizon 2020 project PlanMap, we developed an integrated VR application dedicated to the geological characterization of the Kimberley outcrop on Mars (CARAVACA et al., 2020a). The VR environment (Fig. 1) is based on regional high resolution orbital data and a local photogrammetric Digital Outcrop Model made from Curiosity data (CARAVACA et al., 2020b). The VR application allows to freely roam around the reconstructed outcrop and its vicinity within a ~3x3 km area, observable at various scales (real scale, Fig. 2a; regional scale, Fig. 2b). It features a complete set of measurement tools (with accuracy at the mm-scale) including distance (Fig. 2a), angles and strike/dip (Fig. 2b) measurements. The application also allows to switch basemaps between greyscale and colour orthoimages, geomorphological map, or a 360 panorama (Fig. 2c) in a GIS-like manner to access various information. Finally, the user has also the ability to reproject actual images taken by the various cameras onboard the rover on the 3D mesh from their exact point of view (Fig. 2d). These VR tools represent first steps toward a complete “field-trip” to a remote and otherwise inaccessible Martian geological outcrop, in order to explore and characterize its sedimentary record in an accurate and efficient way.
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hal-03922867 , version 1 (26-01-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03922867 , version 1


Gwénaël Caravaca, Stéphane Le Mouélic, Nicolas Mangold, Laetitia Le Deit, Marion Massé, et al.. Using Virtual Reality to replicate "in situ" field work on Mars. 4th Virtual Geoscience Conference, Sep 2021, Online, France. ⟨hal-03922867⟩
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