Guide to Planetary Science Data

Sources and Tools for Use

The purpose of this site is to be a "one stop shop" for anyone interested in finding and using planetary science data. The first phase will include digital imaging data. Later versions will include sample, particles and fields, and spot spectral data. The site will be divided into two main sections. "Sources" will list and have links to places where the data can be found. "Tools" will organize and describe tools for data use. These start with simple browse tools used to select and view images. More sophisticated tools allow or require the user to choose a subset of data to view, a spatial or spectral range for example. The most sophisticated tools require an investment of time to learn but allow researchers to take calibrated mission data and produce new derived data sets. Techniques used by mission scientists to produce calibrated data are beyond the scope of this site.

This site is a work in progress. More information will be added, especially about the more sophisticated tools and learning to use them.


Planetary spacecraft missions funded by NASA are required to produce data in a format approved by the Planetary Data System (PDS). Such data is held by PDS and can be found through the PDS imaging node (which has a useful page for New Users) or other nodes. Missions by other nations also frequently provide data that conforms to PDS standards and is available through the PDS. The permanent archive for NASA’s planetary science (and other space science) data is the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC). Ongoing missions provide periodic releases of data. Such data and other data of special public interest may be available from mission websites before it is available at the PDS.

NASA provides a web page with links to all current and past missions and one that can be searched by target or mission type. The Pacific Regional Planetary Data Center (PRPDC), the University of Hawaii’s RPIF, has a set of links, grouped by target body, to downloadable images and videos.

Tools for Use

simple browsers

The simplest way to use planetary science data is to look at an image onscreen, download it, or print it. Various tools exist for this purpose.

NSSDC’s Photo Gallery has a limited number of images organized by solar system object. The Catalog of Spaceborne Imaging further organizes images by mission. Both of these sites are badly out of date.

The JPL Photojournal allows users to first select an object, then refine the search by target, mission, spacecraft and instrument. The PDS Planetary Image Atlas allows the user to narrow the search with several parameters including location (lat/long range or interactive map), instrument, filters, product type, lighting contstraints and geometry, and others. Map-A-Planet allows users to select an area of their choosing from a mosaic of an object and download the image in a variety of file formats. Custom products can also be ordered. This is going to be replaced by Map-A-Planet 2.

Google Moon and Google Mars allow the user to zoom and pan around the surface while viewing a limited number of data sets.

more sophisticated tools

JMARS is a geospatial information system (GIS) that allows the user to perform tasks such as measuring distances, counting craters, and working with 3-D data for many planetary bodies. Users can also upload their own data sets. The site contains tutorials for using the programs and instructions on how to download the various software packages that JMARS comprises. A pdf of instructions for using the basic layers can be found here.

NASAView is a display tool for data contained in the PDS archive. It allows users to perform such tasks as extracting histograms and choosing which wavelength bands to display. This overview provides more information.

The USGS provides a couple of GIS tools for data analysis, PIGWAD and MRCTR.

VICAR is a general purpose image processing software system that was originally designed for use on JPL’s planetary missions.

ENVI and ISIS (probably due for a name change soon for obvious reasons) are complex and versatile programs for advanced image analysis.

For More Information:

University of Hawaii NASA PRPDC

Phone: (808) 956-3132

Email: prpdc @