Planet MarsMars Art Gallery

The "Mars As Art" Presentation

By Jim Plaxco, March 2005

It was in the year 2001 that I first began to think of Mars image data as being art. At the time I was gathering material for a presentation that I was developing. Titled "Mars Oddities - Mars Odyssey", the lecture did provide a brief overview of the Mars Odyssey mission but was primarily about the imaging results of the Mars Global Surveyor mission. In the course of searching for interesting images to illustrate the presentation, I came across several that struck me as being very attractive from an artistic viewpoint. This led me to do something that I had never before done with such data: I began to play with it.

I had previously processed quite a few images from prior missions to Mars, mostly from the Viking mission. I had always been very straight forward in the processing of these images. I would process them for the sole purpose of removing noise and enhancing contrast so as to best represent the geologic features that the image contained.

In the course of preparing the "Mars Oddities - Mars Odyssey" presentation, I happened to be working with an image of the "Swiss Cheese" terrain which is unique to the south pole of Mars. It was the strangeness of this terrain that made me ask myself the question: I wonder what a pseudo color version of this would look like? So I began to play. I was pleased enough with the resulting image, which I subsequently decided to call Genesis, that I decided to include it in the presentation. I then colored another image of dust devil streaks so that it resembled a top down view of a balding head and included it in the presentation. As it turned out, both of these images were well received.


I continued to update and present the "Mars Oddities - Mars Odyssey" program to audiences up through May 2003. All this while I continued to play with images from the Mars Global Surveyor and Viking missions but did not include any of these in any of the presentations I had been doing.

It was the summer of 2004 when I began to put together a program titled "Mars As Art". While featuring several of the artistic renditions that I have created from MGS data, the presentation focuses more on the nature of the Mars Global Surveyor camera, the variables affecting the images, and the digital image processing of the raw data in order to create presentable images of Mars.

The first public presentation of this program was at the Windycon Science Fiction Convention in November 2004. Several modifications were made before delivering the program at a meeting of the Skokie Valley Astronomers at the beautiful Ryerson Nature Center in Riverwoods in March 2005.

If you are in the Chicago area and would be interested in having me make this presentation to your school, library, museum or organization, then please send me an email at:

Presentation Summary Information:

Mars As Art
Computer or 35mm slides
45 to 90 minutes based on audience requirements
This program looks at the planet Mars on an artistic level using digital images of the planet taken by the Mars Global Surveyor. Included is an overview of the MGS mission and camera, a selection of processed images of the martian surface along with elementary explanations of said processing, and a selection of the digital art created by the speaker out of several MGS images.

2005 Jim Plaxco,