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Space in 3-D

Kevin Frank / The Tonight Show / NASA
Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad stands near the southern rim of Surveyor Crater
during a moonwalk on Nov. 19, 1969. Conrad holds a sampling scoop, and a tool
carrier rests by his foot. Put on red-blue glasses for the 3-D effect, which was
added by graphic artist Kevin Frank. Click on the image for a larger version.


Our latest crop of cosmic pictures puts you hundreds of miles above an erupting volcano, sends you zooming over the moon and plunks you down on Mars. But if you really want to feel as if you're in outer space, you'll have to put on your red-blue 3-D glasses. It's the next best thing to being there.

Take this spectacular image of Sarychev Volcano's eruption, for example. It's the first image in our "Month in Space" roundup for June, and it looks pretty cool in the slideshow window. But it looks even cooler in 3-D, thanks to Belgian stereo artist Patrick Vantuyne. Hats off to SpaceWeather.com for serving up the image, along with time-lapse satellite readings that show the spread of the volcano's plume and a stunning aerial photo of the volcanic clouds.

While you have your red-blue glasses on, spend some extra time clicking through Vantuyne's online 3-D galleries. I particularly like his series of stereo shots showing the Apollo moonwalkers at work.

Most of the Apollo 3-D images, or anaglyphs, were created using a simple technique called the "stereo cha-cha": The astronaut with the camera would take one photograph while putting his weight on the left leg, then shift his weight to the right leg and snap the second picture. The images could then be combined, using red and blue highlights to create the stereo effect.

Some photographers place the left-right views side by side and expect you to look at them cross-eyed, but that's a trick my poor eyes can hardly ever achieve.  

Vantuyne is by no means the only guy who goes in for space in stereo. NASA has assembled albums of 3-D imagery for Apollo 11, Apollo 12 and Apollo 14. There's also a zoomable panorama of lunar terrain as seen during Apollo 15. The U.S. Geological Survey has its own anaglyph atlas for Apollo 16 and 17, and Mars Unearthed offers a wealth of stereo imagery for the Red Planet as well as for the moon and other cosmic locales.

I mentioned "Moon 3-D" a couple of weeks ago in my roundup of books with an Apollo theme - and if you're interested in a 3-D Mars, you'll want to check out this archived log item.

One important issue to resolve right away is how to get the 3-D glasses in the first place. You can usually find them at novelty or party stores, and NASA provides a handy guide to buying the glasses or making your own. I keep a cardboard set of the glasses in my pocket: You never know when a 3-D volcano or moonwalk will pop up. 

The big pictures
Here are links to more information about the other images featured in our latest "Month in Space" roundup:

  • Moonshadow on Saturn's rings: You can see Mimas' shadow stretch across Saturnian rings at the Cassini imaging team's Web site. I provided an overview on the ringed planet's equinox in a Cosmic Log item earlier this week.
  • Tail of flame: The NASA Human Spaceflight Web site provides the big picture showing last month's liftoff of reinforcements for the international space station.
  • Channels on Mars: Real-life "canali" on the Red Planet? The European Space Agency's Mars Express Web site has the full story behind Hephaestus Fossae's dry channels.
  • Marine green: NASA's Earth Observatory features the satellite image of a swirling phytoplankton bloom off Japan's Hokkaido Island.
  • Stacking up: NASA's Project Constellation Web site shows hardware stacked up for a future rocket test. Will the Ares I rocket pass the test? Here are a couple of perspectives on NASA's next-generation launch systems. 
  • Mars revealed: The Web site for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, has versions of this picture from Gale Crater in sizes suitable for framing (or wallpapering).
  • Putting their heads together: For the first time, six astronauts from five countries are spending months of quality time aboard the international space station. NASA's Human Spaceflight Web site provided this unconventional portrait.
  • Old moon...: The Moon Views Web site has oodles of reprocessed images from the Lunar Orbiter project of the 1960s, including this view of the moon's south pole.
  • ... And new moon: To see the final pictures taken before Japan's Kaguya orbiter crashed on the moon, check out the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Web site. Check out this story as well.
  • Evolving island: Earth Observatory provides the full story behind the space station snapshot of St. Helena island, visited by Napoleon Bonaparte as well as Charles Darwin.
  • How Martian spiders evolve: This HiRISE photo is proof that Martian geology is truly alien. What the heck are those things? I talked about the "Spiders From Mars" almost three years ago, and the Martian Spiders Web site has more of the scientific story.
  • To the moon! You'll find launch photos galore at NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Web site. LRO has already entered lunar orbit, and the LCROSS moon-smashing probe has sent back its first images.
  • Mercury's rays: The Messenger Web site at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory offers loads of images from Mercury.
  • Valleys on Mars: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's view of the valleys carved into Elysium Mons comes from the HiRISE Web site.
  • First look: The European Space Agency sent along the first images from its Herschel infrared telescope. You can review our launch story to find out more about Herschel and its partner probe, Planck.
  • Take me home: NASA's Kennedy Media Gallery shows you not only how the shuttle landed back in Florida atop a modified Boeing 747 jet, but also what happened afterward.

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