How to take a “hands-free” selfie – just like the Mars rover

I recently came across an image shown in Universe Today of the Mars Curiosity rover taking a selfie. It wasn’t the one above, but pretty similar. This one’s from last year and is called the “Buckskin Self-Portrait”. I used it because it’s prettier but still demonstrates the same point.

Anyway, I immediately noticed that there was no apparent connection between the rover and the viewpoint, making it look as if there was another party taking the picture.

What is going on here? How is this possible?

Rather than leaping to the conclusion that it was a secret NASA conspiracy, or a passing alien that Curiosity gave its iPhone to, I checked to see if there was any information to guide how this image was taken. Of course, there was.

The picture is actually taken as a mosaic and stitched together by the guys back on Earth to make a more viewer-friendly image.

Mars Rover Mosaic

Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech

In fact, if you zoom in to the stitched-up picture you can just see a little bit of the rover’s arm that has been cut off by the way the pic was put together.

Rover photographic arm

Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech

How to make your own Mars Rover selfie

I decided, for fun, I would brave having my mug on this page just to prove it is fairly easy to do a similar image where it appears “hands-free” for myself.

Step one, take two selfies, one using the right hand to hold the camera away, and one using the left (surprisingly hard). Please forgive the low quality. I don’t have a selfie stick and I hate photos of me.

right pic in selfie mosaic left pic in selfie mosaic

Step two, import the images into your favourite image editing programme, probably one that rhymes with “moto-stop”.

Step three, put one image on top of another, in a new layer, and make it slightly transparent. Because I’m not a Mars rover with an unfeasibly long arm and my expressions a tad more mobile than a space robot, it was impossible to do a cut right down the middle of my face, so instead I lined up my shoulders. A little bit of a cheat, but hey, it was early in the morning.

Merging two selfies into one hands-free one

Step four, make the top layer opaque again and tidy up. I’ve left the cut so you can see where it is but it wouldn’t take long to blend the edges so they merged seamlessly.

Handsfree selfie mosaic just like the Mars Curiosity rover!

So there you have it, a “hands-free” selfie with no aliens, secret NASA programmes or Matt Damons involved. If I had a selfie-stick or higher self-esteem I could have taken a full body shot, but I leave that to your own experimentations.

Can NASA be trusted to tell the truth?

Of course, it is possible that NASA edited out all the aliens photobombing Curiosity, and are hiding all the people wandering about who are definitely not just weird-shaped rocks, but I rather think that they would probably bring them up at some point as it would be a massive vindication of their budget spend over the last half-century or so. A recent BBC article also debunked our human ability to keep conspiracies quiet for so long. Someone always talks.

To amuse myself, I like to imagine said alien just watching the rover gently trundling over the barren, dry desert and thinking to itself “What am I doing here? There are cows I could be mutilating… anuses to probe…” and then Curiosity shouts, “Dude, could you hold this?”

Occam’s Razor is something that should get taught to every kid in the age of the internet, if it’s not already.

The images are all publicly available here http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/. They’re fascinating and also include hard data readouts for your delight!

Do I believe in aliens?

Yeah, I think they’re possible. As a writer of science fiction, I’m conflicted as to how much I want to meet them. On the one hand I can see it being a load of trouble. On the other hand, really interesting. On the third, alien hand, it would maybe scupper some of my writing business. Who knows?

Mathematically speaking, there could well be some life out there. Whether or not it is intelligent or capable of advanced space travel is another question. Whether it would cross the vasty nothing of space (Firefly fans?) and then spend half a century trying to hide, or being hid by world governments is yet another. It’s actually a theme I’m addressing in my next scifi book series, but you’ll just have to wait for that.

Til then.

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