Each HiRISE image has a color strip in the central portion of the image. That strip is comprised of three color wavelengths, blue-green, red and near infrared. Let’s clarify some terms first. RED refers to the visible wavelength portion of the spectrum in which the full-width HiRISE images are taken. These look black and white, not red, because they are displayed in grayscale. But we call them RED images. The other two colors seen by the HiRISE camera are in the visible blue-green (called BG) and invisible near infrared (often called NIR, but we refer to it here as IR).
The magic happens when we succeed at coregistering the IR and BG to the RED parts of the image to produce the center strip, false color images. More about this in an upcoming post. The maximum width of a color image is 4048 pixels. Some HiRISE images are 100,000 pixels long, which makes for a very long skinny image. These are affectionately dubbed “color noodles” by the HiPI (PI=Principle Investigator).
The image below illustrates where the color portion of the image is located. The zoomed in part of the same image just shows more clearly how the colors can offer more detailed geologic information than is available in the RED (black and white) image. For detailed information about the use of the color products and how they can be interpreted for scientific purposes, please refer to “Information for Scientific Users of HiRISE Color Products”
Is this what Mars really looks like? The images are not true color. The three color images taken by HiRISE are coregistered and stacked on top of each other. Then each color layer is assigned to red, blue or green, because those are the colors that are projected on your screen. So you can see how the word “color” becomes quite confusing. First, red is black and white. Then, we have all those I’s R’s and G’s and B’s! The color in HiRISE color products is really false color, because we are assigning a visible color to one that is invisible to human eyes. Also, there are only three wavelengths of light, not the full visible spectrum we are used to seeing. The RGB products are more similar to “natural” color. Even with HiRISE’s limited color capability, there is still an incredible amount of information gained by having the two extra wavelengths.
Why is there a garish green strip along the right side of the color image (left side in the nomap products)? You will notice this in some of the HiRISE color products. It will be apparent in the IRB, but not the RGB products. This is due to one half of the IR10 CCD having electronics issues during the earlier part of the mission. This problem was resolved for most cases, so that later images have both channels of IR10 — no green strip. Some of the earlier images were also able to be reprocessed to restore the missing IR information.
What is the difference between “RGB” and “IRB”? The RGB products are different than the IRB products in that the IR channel has been replaced by a “synthetic blue” layer that creates an image that is somewhat closer to natural color. In many of the images, the infrared band does not contribute a lot of information. The bands in this product have also been stretched to provide better contrast. In other words, the RGB images are more aesthetic. The IRB product is a science product. It contains the IR, RED and BG layers.
In the IAS viewer, you can turn the bands on and off to see what information each one contributes to a particular image. Use this button to switch from color to grayscale. This dialogue will also allow you to switch the color assigned to each band. The way the images are stacked in the HiRISE images goes like this:
Changing two bands to display the same color will show what kind of information is contributed by each band.
Below is a detail from PSP_004052_2045 showing the IRB color overlaid on the RED image. It is a beautiful example of how the color available in HiRISE images gives us new information that aids in interpreting the images. They are also just plain beautiful.