Experience searching for ancient signs of life on Mars

Become the latest Mars rover using Nat Geo’s engaging interactive on Instagram

What is this? NASA’s Perseverance rover has touched down on Mars. National Geographic’s new augmented reality (AR) experience on Instagram allows viewers to become one with the rover as it searches for ancient signs of life on the red planet. Viewers will see through its eyes, observing its first panorama, can operate its extremities, and—naturally—are able to take a selfie with it. 

The experience was built with Instagram’s Spark AR platform, allowing access to any Instagram user.

National Geographic teamed up with NASA to ensure that the experience is as authentic as possible, consulting scientists and engineers who worked to design and build the rover, including Roger Weins (SUPERCAM), Christina Diaz (PIXL), and Jim Bell (Mastcam-Z).

Launch the interactive, and you’ll find yourself floating through space. Tap on the screen to fly to Mars. Now you’re on the surface, in the Jezero Crater. Move your phone to look around. Point it down and you’ll notice your body is now the body of the rover and your eyes are those of the camera, called Mastcam-Z.

Tap the arm of the rover and it’ll extend to the ground and begin work. The PIXL instrument at the arm’s end  measures the chemical makeup of Martian rocks, in hopes of finding evidence of ancient microbial life. As scientists identify promising rock layers, Perseverance drills for core samples and stores them in tubes for testing back on Earth.

Next, use the camera button (bottom right) in Instagram and flip to the selfie view. You’ll see yourself shoulder to shoulder with the digital rover—programmed to mimic your head movements. What’s more, open your mouth and a laser shoots out. That’s Supercam breaking rocks. (In reality, the laser beam isn’t visible; on Mars it would appear as a quick zap on impact.) You’re invited to take a selfie using the record button (bottom of the screen), or press and hold the button to record a video. Share the recording to your Instagram Stories. The AR version of Perseverance is designed to move its arm around you, so technically it’s taking that selfie.

Finally, return to the front-facing camera and have a look: This is the first immersive, 360 view of the panorama from the rover, with a couple adjustments. The rover in the original image has been replaced with a NASA 3D model, and sky has been “added” to provide a full spherical perspective—NASA’s science team often prioritizes capturing the terrain over the sky.

One day humans could make it to Mars, but for now this is about as close as you can get.

This is National Geographic’s fourth Spark AR project. To see the others, search for Spinosaurus, Climb Everest, and the World in 2070.

How to access the rover

If you’re reading this article on your smartphone, simply click here to open the interactive in the Instagram app.

If you’re reading this on another device, you can find this interactive (and the other AR filters) on Instagram:

  1. Open Instagram.
  2. Swipe left on the home page to open the Instagram camera.
  3. Swipe right on the filters to Browse Effects, on the far right.
  4. Search Mars AR.

The obsession with the red planet continues at natgeo.com/space

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