February 19, 2004

Looking at Mars in 3-D

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To celebrate and explore the recent Mars landing, the office of the provost started giving away one thousand pairs of 3-D glasses last week. The glasses, which can be used to view the 3-D images being sent back by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, are available at the information desk in the Straight.

The recent Mars rover missions, lead by in large part by Prof. Steve Squyres ’78 Ph.D. ’81, astronomy, and Prof. Jim Bell, astronomy, are in search of signs of water and evidence that the red planet may once have been more hospitable to life.

Dave Cameron, the provost’s special projects assistant, says he got the idea for the glasses give away in his own office. “I happened to have an old pair of 3-D glasses that I brought into the office so I could share the first of the 3-D images from the Spirit rover with my co-workers,” he said.

One of his co-workers mused that it would be nice if everyone had a chance to see the high-resolution photos being streamed back from space, and Cameron agreed. “Since Cornell is so heavily involved in the Rover missions, why not share the excitement with as many people as we can?” he asked.

After discovering that the space sciences department was not stocked with glasses, Cameron decided to find a supplier and pitch his idea to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin, who approved the purchase from Tennessee-based American Paper Optics.

Cameron hopes the glasses will help get more students interested about the rovers, and realize the importance of Cornell’s role in the missions. “When you get right down to it, I just think this is a really cool way of experiencing images from another planet, especially when you really try to absorb what it is you’re looking at, and how the photos got to us,” Cameron said. “After that, it’s easy to keep exploring all the non-3-D images they’ve been posting as well, and following the missions’ progress day by day.”

Cameron stressed that the glasses were not limited to the astronomy department.

“Anyone is free to walk into [the Straight], pick up a free pair of glasses, and use our internet resources to learn about anotherplanet in a new and exciting way,” Cameron said. “I think that’s a terrific example of making new frontiers of knowledge available to our community, and it invites people to participate in educating themselves about the universe.”

At the Straight information desk, staff member Diana To ’06 said that the giveaway had, during her shift, been going slowly. “Only two people asked me for glasses [on Monday],” she said. When asked, she said she felt that the slow pace was due to a lack of promotion. Cameron estimated that, on Tuesday, about half the glasses had been given away.

On campus, student reaction to the give away was mixed. “2-D pictures suffice perfectly for whatever purpose 3-D pictures serve,” said Lenny Lantsman ’07. He had not heard about the giveaway previously, and felt that the money NASA was spending on creating the anaglyph images would be better spent elsewhere.

He did, however, think that in context the images could be an interesting draw. “Why don’t they persuade Cornell Cinema to show a 3-D movie, one of those 50’s sci-fi movies, and then they could show these 3-D Mars rover pictures as a preview? I think that would get people interested,” he said.

Cameron said that, although several ideas for tie-ins with the glasses were under consideration, nothing was definite yet.

Emma Hamme ’07, who had not heard about the giveaway until asked, also had reservations about the benefits of the 3-D images. “I was not impressed by the pictures,” she said after viewing several. “Couldn’t they spend this money on something useful, like a Slip-n-Slide or a pool of Jello?” The office of the provost was not available for comment on Hamme’s proposal in time for this article.

James Maxwell ’07, however, said he felt the images were impressive. “I find it a very unusual but very effective presentation of the Martian landscape,” he said. “Most of the pictures were rather effective with the glasses.” He added that, although he had heard about the giveaway, he was uncertain of the details.

Gabi Salazar ’07 agreed with Maxwell. “On the whole, I dig it,” she said. “They’re not very interesting, because they are just a bunch of rocks, but they are on Mars, which is pretty cool.”Aside from the Martian images, various Cornell programs have used anaglyphs for everything from visualizing molecules to analyzing stock performances.

Archived article by Michael Morisy