Interactive visualization of atmospheric effects for celestial bodies

Jonathas Costa, Alexander Bock, Carter Emmart, Charles Hansen, Anders Ynnerman, Claudio Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present an atmospheric model tailored for the interactive visualization of planetary surfaces. As the exploration of the solar system is progressing with increasingly accurate missions and instruments, the faithful visualization of planetary environments is gaining increasing interest in space research, mission planning, and science communication and education. Atmospheric effects are crucial in data analysis and to provide contextual information for planetary data. Our model correctly accounts for the non-linear path of the light inside the atmosphere (in Earth's case), the light absorption effects by molecules and dust particles, such as the ozone layer and the Martian dust, and a wavelength-dependent phase function for Mie scattering. The mode focuses on interactivity, versatility, and customization, and a comprehensive set of interactive controls make it possible to adapt its appearance dynamically. We demonstrate our results using Earth and Mars as examples. However, it can be readily adapted for the exploration of other atmospheres found on, for example, of exoplanets. For Earth's atmosphere, we visually compare our results with pictures taken from the International Space Station and against the CIE clear sky model. The Martian atmosphere is reproduced based on available scientific data, feedback from domain experts, and is compared to images taken by the Curiosity rover. The work presented here has been implemented in the OpenSpace system, which enables interactive parameter setting and real-time feedback visualization targeting presentations in a wide range of environments, from immersive dome theaters to virtual reality headsets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9222377
Pages (from-to)785-795
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Computer Graphics Techniques
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Physical & Environmental Sciences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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