You have probably heard that Google and NASA have finally released the Google Mars update for Google Earth. I finally got the time to install Google Earth 5.0 and play on the surface of Mars for a bit this morning. It’s amazing.
I first heard about this project a couple of years ago after stumbling across a subculture of Google Earth devotees who were overlaying pieces of Mars on Google Earth to create simulated 3D views. It was, as they say, a “hack.” The 3D model of Earth isn’t exactly Mars, but it was possible to drape Mars surface data over it and create a reasonable cheat version of the planet. I joined their online forum and learned a lot about what they were doing.
I planned to write about it, but never found the time. The Google Mars project was apparently underway already. Now the circle is complete. Google Mars is no hack — it’s a fully realized simulated planet on your desktop.
Since joining Astronomy a couple of years ago, I’ve written a bunch of news and feature pieces about Mars. Usually they include the stunning surface images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other NASA sources. Today I finally had my first “Oh THAT’S where that is!” experience. I feel like the guy who’s been studying the elephant’s tail in such detail he missed the big wrinkly animal connected to it.
Browsing across Google Mars will catch you up on much of what we’ve seen on Mars to date. It puts it in a planetary context. You’ll never see the Red Planet the same way.
While you’re at it, don’t miss Google’s ocean update. Apparently the famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle quipped a few years ago that Google Earth should be called “Google Dirt,” because it was missing a rich, interactive data layer representing the ocean floor. Google took the bait, and with help from Earle and many other scientists have vastly enriched the information mapped to the ocean in Google Earth. Give it a whirl.
To view Google Earth's Mars mode
-Install Google Earth 5.0
-After installation, open Google Earth 5.0
-Look for the ringed planet icon in the horizontal menu bar that runs across the top of the display window
-Click the ringed planet icon, and a dropdown menu appears: "Earth, Sky, Mars"