6 November 2012

Updated Google Mars!

Posted by Ryan

You guys! Google Mars has been updated!

You did know that Google Earth comes with a Google Mars mode, right? It’s easy: you just click  on the little orange planet icon above the main window when Google Earth starts up, and then select Mars. (you can also select Google Moon and Google Sky for all your lunar and astronomical needs)

I have shared my love of Google Mars on this blog before, but the recently updated version has some new features that make me like it even more. First, each of the 4 finalist landing sites for MSL has a mosaic of HiRISE and CTX data surrounding the landing ellipse, with interesting features marked and accompanied by brief descriptions. Here’s a screenshot of Eberswalde crater:

That’s pretty cool by itself, but it’s not what I am most excited about in this updated Google Mars. I am most excited about this:

All of those gray patches on the martian globe are images from the Context Camera (CTX) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. CTX is an amazing camera, photographing huge swaths of the surface at a resolution of ~6 meters per pixel. Before, Google Mars just had the footprints for CTX images. There was the option to load a few of them, but most just linked to a separate website wher the image could be downloaded. But now, there is an option to turn on a global CTX mosaic, allowing anyone interested to enjoy this spectacular dataset. To really appreciate how huge and wonderful these images are, you have to zoom in and just start exploring. Here is an example zooming in on a weird formation inside a crater, first using CTX data, and then zooming even closer with HiRISE:

As I’ve said before, this is how easy it should be to use planetary data. Google Earth is still not quite up to the task for a lot of scientific purposes, but it is the best way I know of to quickly view Mars data, and it is a treasure trove for anyone with even a passing interest in Mars. So go take a look and get lost in the phenomenal data that we have from the Red Planet.