Images, Balloons, and Rockets!

February 7, 2018

The past two weeks have been packed with new and exciting events! Highlights include the first official meeting of the student-led High-Altitude Balloon (HAB) Project by the Center for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX for all of the new readers), and (this is more for me) learning the basics of USGS Isis and Linux Ubuntu coding. The latter summarizes what I have covered so far in the tutorials and shows some images I have imported, converted, and sharpened from USGS Isis. Being the Science Lead for the HAB project, I can talk to you about our potential science objective, which involves a biology component. We are determined to pursue this science objective because it has already grasped the interest of biology and immunology students. This could be the beginning of collaboration between the biology department and CPSX at Western University!


Linux and USGS Isis


So USGS Isis, for those who are not familiar with the software, stands for Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers. The purpose of Isis is to manipulate imagery collected by past and ongoing missions by NASA, e.g. Clementine, LRO, Cassini, MRO, etc. Originally, I planned to start learning how to use USGS Isis on Linux Ubuntu so I may work on my lab computer. After I downloaded Oracle VirtualBox onto Windows (because Isis is not supported by Windows) I installed Ubuntu 17.10. After installing everything on a Saturday morning, I had everything set up. However, I immediately began to encounter difficulties when I began the installation process for Isis3. I constantly received errors stating my operating system did not have the necessary image packages required to support the imagery from Isis3. With no luck solving the error on my own I turned to Dr Catherine Neish who suggested I contact the USGS support center. Sure enough, after registering, they fixed the problem in under 24 hours. Apparently, the latest Ubuntu system they had on Isis3 was Ubuntu 14.04, they updated this and informed me I should reinstall everything and try again.


The error was gone! I was getting closer to finally starting to learn how to use Isis3. I got my hopes up too fast because moments after it was fixed another error appeared showing the following:


qview: error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory


I am still in the process of downloading libquadmath to Ubuntu, but so far no luck. Some sites have offered suggestions but they poorly demonstrate how to fix the problem, rather they say use this code (which none have currently worked), or download it from a questionable website. Hopefully by the time the next blog is published I would have solved this error!


Ok, so with Ubuntu put to the side I turned to using the Mac computer in our lab to practise Isis3. I have been going through the tutorials on their website (, slowly getting used to the basic and fundamental commands for importing and manipulating images!


I have covered importing image, label, and planetary database system files and converting them into ISIS cube files. ISIS3 cubes are 3-D images with axis: samples, lines, and bands (see figure below). For simplicity, lines and samples represent spatial information, while bands represent spectra information. Only ISIS3 cubes can be used to view and manipulate images from past and ongoing missions. 


 Figure credit:


From ISIS cube files and importing data I moved on to applying filters.


Here are a few examples (image shows Oudemans Crater and Noctis Labyrinthus):













The images above are apart of the my tutorial titled "Filters". The goal of this tutorial was to apply different filters to image data to improve the appearance of large and small scale features. The top image is the original image without any filters.


The second image has had a Low Pass filter applied to it. Low Pass filters suppress high frequency data, only allowing low frequency data through. Suppressing high frequency data enhances large scale features while making small scale features blurry (or removes them). This is why the image is blurry, because small features are being suppressed. 


lowpass FROM=mars_viking.cub TO=mars_viking_LP.cub


The third image has had a High Pass filter applied to it to suppress low frequency data and allow high frequency data through. From this, smaller features are enhanced, applicable for searching for cracks, crevasses, and sharpening images.


highpass FROM=mars_viking.cub TO=mars_viking_HP.cub


The final image is a filter similar to High Pass. It is known as sharpen, defined as a specialized high pass filter, which makes the output image look similar to the original image but crisper and sharper.


sharpen FROM=mars_viking.cub TO=mars_viking_shrp.cub


I have a lot of notes and code text files but no one wants to see those, we all know its images we want!


HAB Project


On the 5th of February, we held our first official meeting for the High-Altitude Balloon Project. This project is student-led, and its purpose is to be the stepping stones in planetary exploration projects for CPSX, to extend our research group to other departments, and to demonstrate the skills and determination of the graduate and senior undergraduates in Western Science. The meeting was an introduction presentation for the students who showed interest in joining the project, and decide whether they preferred to work on the science or engineering team.


At the moment, we do not have a finalized plan or official science objectives. We do have a baseline mission: to image the University grounds (Western University), London Ontario, the surrounding rural areas, and the curvature of the Earth. 


We are pushing for an atmospheric cross-section sampling of bioaerosols for our science objective. Logistic and engineering constraints are still being reviewed before this is confirmed as the official science objective. Updates are to come in future blog posts.



Credit for this logo goes to Matthew Svensson and Liam Innis, MSc students with Dr Gordon Osinski at Western University.


SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch


This is a late addition to this blog. It is exciting, ingenious, and a step closer humans to explore beyond our planet and moon!


I know most of you would have watched the launch live but in case you haven't here is a link!




That's all for this blog this week! See you guys next time!


Gavin Tolometti



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