The color of published Viking and Pathfinder images varies greatly in hue, saturation and chromaticity. True color is important for interpretation of physical, chemical, geological and, possibly, biological information about Mars.
The weak link in the imaging process for both missions was the reliance on imaging color charts reflecting Martian ambient light. While the reflectivity of the charts is well known, the spectrum of their illumination on Mars is not. “Calibrated” images are usually reddish, attributed to atmospheric dust, but hues range widely because of the great uncertainty in the illumination spectrum. Solar black body radiation, the same on Mars as on Earth, is minimally modified by the atmosphere of either planet. For red dust to change the spectrum significantly, reflected light must exceed the transmitted light. Were this the case, shadows would be virtually eliminated. Viking images show prominent shadows. Also, Pathfinder’s solar cells, activated by blue light, would have failed under the predominately red spectrum generally attributed to Mars.
Accordingly, no consensus has emerged on the colors of the soil, rocks and sky of Mars. This paper proposes two techniques to eliminate color uncertainty from future images, and also to allow recalibration of past images: 1. Calibration of cameras at night through minimal atmospheric paths using light sources brought from Earth, which, used during the day, would permit calculation of red, green and blue intensities independent of scene illumination; 2. Use of hyperspectral imaging to measure the complete spectrum of each pixel.
This paper includes a calibration of a NASA Viking lander image based on its color chart as it appears on Earth. The more realistic Martian colors become far more interesting, showing blue skies, brownish soil and rocks, both with yellow, olive, and greenish areas.