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nasamarsI must admit that over the past decade, Google has surpassed everything I ever imagined might be possible to do on the Internet. The first time I knew that Google was on to something major was when a friend tipped me off to Google Earth Google Earth: Cool Resources and Plugins Google Earth: Cool Resources and Plugins Read More . I was absolutely amazed.

Then, when Google integrated Google Earth features Google Maps Rolls Out Spanking New Features Google Maps Rolls Out Spanking New Features Read More into their online mapping tools, I knew it was only a matter of time before things got really interesting. Today, I’d like to review yet another very cool Google offering known as Google Mars.

Observe & Learn Interesting Geographical Facts About Mars

I’m very much a visual person. You can tell me all about the characteristics of the Red Planet – the diameter, gravity, and atmosphere – but the cold, hard facts are the ones you can view yourself on Google Mars. These include things like the structure of the terrain, elevations, and the locations of mountains, craters, dunes and canyons. For an interplanetary effectionato – this is some pretty cool stuff.

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While most people could pretty much guess where images from Google Earth came from – I mean there are more than enough satellites circling the Earth to take photos – it’s not quite as obvious how Google could get high resolution images of the Red Planet.

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The foundation of Google Mars comes from the work of Percival Lowell, who mapped out the planet through his telescope in 1895. Working up these principles, Google Mars is the product of collaboration between Arizona State University and NASA researchers.  The source for the images (or at least the data from which they were created) comes from the Mars Global Survey or spacecraft for the altitude and photographic imagery, and from the thermal imaging system of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The infrared view gives you a crisp, clear view of the landscape through the dust clouds.

However, my favorite view to gather elevational facts about Mars is the impressive color-coded elevation map.

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When you click “elevation” in the upper left corner, you’re treated to a precise display of the topography of the Mars landscape. Using this feature, you can find some impressively large and deep craters.

Google Mars Infrared Lets You Peak Through The Clouds

If that’s not impressive enough, next up is the infrared imaging feature that lets you peek through the dust clouds at the surface of Red Planet like you’re Superman flying over it with X-Ray vision.

To display the ability of this feature, the image below is of a section of Mars using the straight “Visible” view.

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Now, take a look at this same view under the “Infrared” spectrum and watch how all of the dust clouds completely disappear.

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The clarity under infrared is enough to take your breath away. Zoom in a bit and you won’t even believe your eyes – as the craters, canyons and mountains reach up at you just like the peaks of the highest mountains on Earth captured your imagination on Google Earth. The resolution of the orbiting photographs become apparent when you try to zoom in just a bit too far.

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The image above is a close-up of the crater at the very peak of a tall mountain. As you can see there’s some slight pixelation, but considering the amount of zoom that’s applied, even the clarity of this photo is impressive. It feels like you’re floating down to the planet with a parachute and in merely a few hundred feet you’ll touch down – ignoring the fact that your bodily fluids would vaporize and you would pass out in seconds.

Explore Mountains, Canyons, Craters & More

Finally, one of the last features of Google Mars (at least on this online version), you can click on any of the known major landmarks – including various volcanos and major or minor craters, and you’ll be swept to the location immediately.

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It’s like having your own Google tour guide right on the web. Now, while all of this is pretty awesome, these are only the features available on the web version. If you download Google Earth, you also get a narrated tour of Mars, a “Live From Mars” layer where you can view the latest NASA images, or view 360-degree panoramas shot on the ground by the Mars rovers. Short of donning a space suit and applying to become a NASA astronaut – it doesn’t get much better than this.

Have you ever tried Google Earth or Google Mars? Share your opinion of the application and features in the comments section below.

  1. Ragter
    August 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    wow, what next? Google Jupiter?

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