ExoMars Rover Mission 2018

The true colour of Mars

Mars has a different atmosphere from Earth which influences how colours appear and makes it impossible for conventional cameras to capture true colours on Mars.

For the last five years, the late Professor Dave Barnes and his team, The Computer Science Space Robotics Research Group, have been working to make this possible by developing new calibration methods for the Panoramic Camera (PanCam) instrument on the ESA/Roscosmos led ExoMars 2018 rover mission.

The mission will see the ExoMars rover travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life as well as take high resolution colour images of its findings.

The PanCam instrument calibration hardware that will fly to Mars on the ExoMars rover is still being developed by the research team.  As well as developing a PanCam emulator to test this hardware, the group is working on novel camera instrument colour correction methods to ensure that the images sent back to earth are a true representation of the natural colours of Mars.

Called the PanCam Calibration Target (PCT), the hardware incorporates nine small stained-glass coloured chips. The PCT measures just 50mm × 50mm, is 18 mm high and weighs no more than 25 grams.

Because Mars’ atmosphere has little to no ozone, the high ultra violet irradiation causes colours in standard equipment to fade when exposed to sunlight.   With the use of stained-glass chips, the aim is to avoid fade and enable the camera to capture the planet’s colour qualities, helping the PanCam team back on earth to identify potential science targets for further investigation.

This PanCam technology being developed at Aberystwyth has a great deal of potential and the hope is that this will also benefit the agricultural sector in the future.

ExoMars mission trials were filmed by the BBC2’s Coast programme in series six on the episode on Wales and filming took place in Clarach Bay, Ceredigion.

"Importantly [the research] ensured that the UK space programme benefitted from advances in computer sciences and conversely fed back space research into applications on Earth"

UK Space Agency


Research Aims

  • To capture true colour images on Mars
  • To identify potential science targets for further investigation
  • To discover if there is life on Mars
  • To fly the calibration technology on future planetary and lunar exploration missions
  • To investigate the wider application and transfer of the developed colour calibration technology


Useful Links

au32713 Desert eye test   

Aberystwyth University News - Life on Mars?  

Aberystwyth Experimental Planetary Rover 



Professor Reyer Zwiggelaar
Department of Computer Science
Aberystwyth University
rrz@aber.ac.uk | +44 (0)1970 62 8691