New Google Mars Reveals the Red Planet in 3-D

Victoria Jaggard
National Geographic News
February 4, 2009

Google has landed on Mars.

Tucked into Monday's media splash for the launch of oceans in Google Earth was another, quieter announcement: A module for exploring Mars is now part of the popular 3-D mapping tool.

(Related: "New Google Ocean Takes Google Earth Beyond the 'Dirt'" [February 2, 2009].)

Users can soar through alien trenches, see through the eyes of robotic visitors, and toggle between natural color, "night vision," and rainbow-hued topographic views of the red planet. (Get a Google Mars 3-D preview.)

Virtual Mars is based on pictures from the many orbiters and landers—past and present—that have been sent to study Martian landscapes.

Much of the imagery used in Google Mars 3-D is already publicly available and easy to access on sites across the Internet, noted project leader Noel Gorelick.

The value of the new tool is that it "gets the data together in the same place and at the same time in an easy-to-use package," he said.

Mars scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who was not involved with the project, agreed.

"We spend the money to send craft to study Mars, but compiling all that data isn't something NASA has the resources to do," Vasavada said.

Google in Space

A 19-year NASA veteran, Google's Gorelick was once the self-described "computer guy" for the THEMIS imager on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

After joining Google in 2006, Gorelick used NASA images to build the two-dimensional, Google Maps-like application Google Mars. Then he began processing data from NASA, the European Space Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other organizations to create a 3-D global picture.

Continued on Next Page >>


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