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Google The Red Planet

Google's eye in the sky has landed on the Red Planet. After the highly successful global imaging service, Google Earth, which provides satellite photos on every surface corner of the planet, and the follow-up, Google Moon, Google's galactic reach is now hovering over Mars.

Google Mars

Launched last week is a web-based mapping tool that provides a detailed and up-close view of the Red Planet. It conies with images taken by Nasa's (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) orbiting 2001 Mars Odyssey and 1997 Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. And instead of driving instructions and road and building directories courtesy of Google Earth, Google Mars allows users to view the planet in three different formats.

The Martian elevation map is a color-coded guide while the visible imagery map shows the surface in black-and-white pictures. The infrared map highlights the planet using a temperature scale, with cooler areas coded dark and warmer areas bright. While there are images of Mars located on various websites, Google, which partnered Arizona State University to create the map, says this is the first time members of the public can explore the planet on their own.

However, search as hard as you might, there are no little green men to be found. Here's what each of Google's tools provides instead. Don't be surprised if the image of Mars isn't, well, red. The default setting brings the map up in various colors based on the planet's elevation. If you click on the three tabs that show the different aspects of the planet, there isn't much to look at aside from the obvious similarity to a mish-mash of colored Rorschach ink blots.

What's interesting are the rune options found at the top of the website. When activated, they display the mountains, craters, dunes and canyons of Mars. What's even more fascinating is how it is able to chart and track all the spacecraft that have ever landed on Mars, from the 1971 Mars 2 Lander to the recent Nasa rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Click on each location and a brief history of each spacecraft pops up. The map comes equipped with zoom and movement buttons allowing simple navigation of the terrain.

Google Moon

Google Moon isn't that much of a full blown map as it is an area report of where all six of the Apollo moon landings were - from July 20, 1969, to Dee 11, 1972. Click on the Apollo landing icons and you'll see a list of crew members in each spacecraft. There is a little joke for inquisitive minds out there. Click on any Apollo landing and zoom in all the way. The final zoom magnification shows the moon's surface as a bright yellow Swiss cheese.

It seems the people at Google have decided for the record that the moon isn't made of green or blue cheese. Google Earth isn't so much a map as it is an armchair traveller's guide to the four comers of the planet. Instead of a web-based map, Google Earth is a downloadable program which displays Earth as a combination of satellite imagery, maps, aerial photography and geographic information.

Aside from highlighting just natural and man-made structures, Google Earth is able to provide layers of detail - from office buildings, schools and parks to homes and national monuments. And if you're visiting the United States, it can even search for an address, like a hotel, using the postal code. Visit major cities like Los Angeles or New York and you will even find 3D models of actual buildings in those cities. Given the limited details scientists have of Mars and the Moon, it's no wonder that Google Earth would have a wider appeal After all, there is no place like home.


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