Planetary imaging in powers of ten: A multiscale, multipurpose astrobiological imager

Wolfgang Fink, Henry J. Sun, William C. Mahaney, Kimberly R. Kuhlman, Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Contextual, multiscale astrobiological imaging is necessary to discover, map, and image patchy microbial colonization in extreme environments on planetary surfaces. The large difference in scale-several orders of magnitude-between search environment and microorganisms or microbial communities represents a challenge, which to date no single imaging instrument is able to overcome. In support of future planetary reconnaissance missions, we introduce an adapter-based imager, built from an off-the-shelf consumer digital camera, that offers scalable imaging ranging from macroscopic (meters per pixel) to microscopic (micrometers per pixel) imaging, that is, spanning at least 6 orders of magnitude. Magnification in digital cameras is governed by (1) the native resolution of the CCD/CMOS chip of the camera, (2) the distance between camera and object to be imaged (focal length), and (3) the built-in optical and digital zoom. Both telezoom and macro mode alone are usually insufficient for microscopic imaging. Therefore, the focal distance has to be shortened, and the native CCD resolution of the camera has to be increased to attain a microscopic imaging capability. Our adapter-based imager bridges the gap between macroscopic and microscopic imaging, thereby enabling for the first time contextual astrobiological imaging with the same instrument. Real-world applications for astrobiology and planetary geology are discussed, and proof-of-concept imagery taken with our prototype is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1010
Number of pages6
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • Astrobiology
  • Contextual imaging
  • Endolithic Microorganisms
  • Macroscopic imaging
  • Microbes
  • Microbial communities
  • Microscopic imaging
  • Multiscale imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Planetary imaging in powers of ten: A multiscale, multipurpose astrobiological imager'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this