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Space Fans Surf Mars

No need to pack your bags, acquire driverís license or get insurance. Interplanetary explorers and space fans now have Google Mars and are in for a good tour. They can view geographical features on Mars with a click of their mouse on maps provided to Google by NASA.

The images were captured by NASAís Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor, probes that are currently orbiting Mars. In collaboration with NASA researchers at Arizona State University, Google created scientific maps of Mars. Interplanetary explorers can see the planet using three different types of maps: The shaded relief map shows elevation and was generated with data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft; it is color-coded by altitude. The Visible map consists of a mosaic of images taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, and finally there is a mosaic of infrared images taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft where warmer areas appear brighter, and colder areas are darker. Clouds and dust in the atmosphere are transparent in the infrared.

Users can zoom in on any of the three maps to view geographical features such as mountains, canyons, dunes and craters. The maps also pinpoint the locations of unmanned space probes that have landed on Mars and mark the sites of previous unmanned missions to Mars, including the final landing site of the British probe Beagle 2, which launched in 2003 but failed on landing.

To whom do space enthusiasts owe this honor? The site was launched to celebrate the 151st anniversary of the birth of Percival Lowell, an astronomer who mapped and studied Mars in the 19th century, and is a joint collaboration between Google and NASA.

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