A little more than a month after its initial release, Google has rolled out some enhancements to its Google Mars feature of its Google Earth application. The enhancements make the virtual exploration of Mars all the more enjoyable.
The enhancements are:
The user now has the ability to “overlay” the photographic map of modern Mars with historical maps compiled by astronomers such as Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell. Schiaparelli thought he had detected features on the Martian surface he called cannali, which is Italian for channels. Percival Lowell misinterpreted Schiaparelli term to mean canals, which suggested the presence of a alien civilization on Mars. The canals or cannali in any case turned out to be an optical illusion, though they featured quite prominently in science fiction of the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Google Mars also now host a couple of guided tours of Mars, courtesy of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ira Flatow of NPR. One can explore Mars’ more interesting features, such as Olympus Mons, the highest known volcano and mountain in the Solar System, Valles Marineris, the deepest known canyon in the Solar System, and the feature on the Cydonia Plain known as “the Face on Mars”, which turned out to be another optical illusion.
Google Mars will also now feature the latest images from probes such as the Mars Observer within days or even hours of they being taken. There are also excerpts from A Travel’s Guide to Mars by locatable feature as well as 3D images of the Mars rovers along with images taken from the surface of Mars.
Google Mars to part of a Space Act agreement between Google and NASA and helps to further NASA’s mandate to facilitate education in space science.
Google Mars is a demonstration of the potential of Internet technology as an education tool. One suspects that it is still a work in progress, as more images and more data comes in. Also, one wonders that now that Google is able to show us what people thought Mars looked like in the past, perhaps the next enhancement could show us the future. It would be spectacular to see what Mars would look like after it is terraformed, with the desert blooming again, with seas and rivers filled with surface water, forests, grassy plains, and a breathable atmosphere. Most scientists believe that is what Mars looked like billions of years ago, before most of the atmosphere leached away and the seas dried up and whatever life, except perhaps for some bacteria, died out.
Sources: Live from Mars! Google, March 13th, 2009
Google Maps of Mars, the Oceans, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, February 3rd, 2009