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Google Mars is an online application that closely resembles Google Maps.
Of course, we now know that Mars does not have any roads (although whether it ONCE HAD a bustling civilization still remains to be determined). So instead of showing the Map, Satellite, and Terrain views a la Google Maps, Google Mars instead has the Elevation, Visible and Infrared views. Please see the right side of the screen cap above.
Clicking on ‘Elevation’ will reveal a shaded relief map using data obtained from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter. The image is color-coded to give us an idea of the altitudes of the terrain we’re looking at. The legend for the color-code can be found in the lower-left side of the screen cap. I’ve encircled one location on the map depicting a region with a 21-km altitude.
You can pan up, down, left, or right using the arrow-marked buttons in the upper-left side of the screen. To zoom in and out, just slide the slider tool. This is also found in the left side, right below the panning tool. See the screen cap where I’ve zoomed in to the encircled region.
The Visible Map or view is a mosaic of images obtained from the Mars Orbiter Camera, a device on the NASA Mars Global Surveyor. The gray-scale color was chosen for clarity. Here’s the Cydonia region in Visible view. Cydonia’s the place where the so-called Face on Mars was discovered.Finally, if you select the Infrared view, you’ll be shown a mosaic of infrared images taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on board the NASA Mars Odyssey. Brighter colors indicate warmer areas while darker colors indicated colder areas. See the Cydonia region in Infrared below, where I’ve encircled the Face on Mars.
In case you’re wondering why the infrared images are sharper, that’s because clouds and dust (which are covering the surface) are transparent when viewed using infrared light.
If you’ve got Google Earth installed, you can find the same images there. In fact, Google Earth allows you to fly over Mars inside a virtual 3D environment.
More discussions regarding the images used can be found in the Mars Global Data Sets webpage. If it’s information about Mars in general you’re looking for, head on to the Mars Global Surveyor webpage.
Tired eyes? Listen to some episodes at Astronomy Cast. Here are two that might interest you: