Researchers develop algorithm to identify individual grains in planetary regolith

November 15, 2013

Instruments on the Curiosity Mars rover not only measure the chemistry of rocks, elemental abundances of soils and wind speeds, but also take an incredible number of images from both mast-mounted cameras and up-close imaging systems mounted to robotic arms. The process of analyzing soil images can be daunting, particularly when there are thousands of images and when the particles can be on the order of only 5-10 pixels wide. A team of researchers, led by Suniti Karunatillake at LSU's Department of Geology and Geophysics, and including Stony Brook University, USGS-Flagstaff AZ, and Rider University, developed an image analysis and segmentation algorithm specifically to aid planetary scientists with this very basic, but often difficult, task.

Planetary scientists use to identify the distribution of grain sizes of large-scale (centimeter or larger diameter) rocks and small-scale (less than 1 cm) grains. These grain sizes tell scientists about the processes that distributed the particles from their source regions to where they are now. For example, were they derived from a water source, blown by wind, or show hydrodynamic sorting?

The algorithm, implemented in Mathematica, uses a variety of image processing steps to segment the image, first into coarser (foreground) and finer (background) grains. The image is then further segmented until most grains are outlined. The code processes a single image within 1 to 5 minutes.

The semi-automated algorithm, while comparing favorably with manual (human) segmentation, provides better consistency across multiple images than a human. The researchers are exploring the use of this algorithm to quantify grain sizes in the images from the Mars Exploration Rovers Microscopic Imager (MI) as well as Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The grain size distributions identified in those images have the potential to reveal subtle trends with composition not considered previously. Ability to identify most of the grains in images also makes detailed, area-weighted, sedimentology possible. Applications extend to terrestrial data from less accessible sites such as deep lake basins or undisturbed river bed sediments.

Explore further: First color image of Mars returned from Curiosity

More information: Icarus DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2013.10.001; Icarus DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2013.09.021

Related Stories

First color image of Mars returned from Curiosity

August 7, 2012

(Phys.org) -- This view of the landscape to the north of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the afternoon of the first day after landing. (The team calls this day Sol 1, which ...

Mars rover Curiosity's arm wields camera well

September 11, 2012

(Phys.org)—NASA's Mars rover Curiosity stepped through activities on Sept. 7, 8 and 9 designed to check and characterize precision movements by the rover's robotic arm and use of tools on the arm.

Curiosity self-portrait, wide view

December 27, 2012

(Phys.org)—On the 84th and 85th Martian days of the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's mission on Mars (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2012), NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to capture dozens of high-resolution ...

About that 'flower' on Mars….

January 16, 2013

The Curiosity rover is having a "field day" exploring the rocks in shallow depression that scientists call 'Yellowknife Bay', which is chockfull of light toned rocks. One small rock or feature – the size of a pebble or ...

Imager sends ultra high-res photo from Mars

October 9, 2013

(Phys.org) —An instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity rover has sent back to scientists on Earth an ultra high-resolution image of a penny the rover carried to Mars.

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.