Teach the World

Expanding knowledge through geography

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A map for the Mars Rover Mission

We all know what it’s like to drive around endlessly trying to choose a place to park our vehicle. It’s a problem Steve Ruff faces every so often as well, but it’s not the family station wagon or his own sports car that he needs to park. Dr. Ruff is an ASU research scientist with the Mars Exploration Rover Mission and he uses Mars in Google Earth to help plan the rover’s path.

Google Earth has done a lot to help humans understand our planet, opening countless eyes to new views of places near and far. With the 2009 release of Google Earth 5.0, the horizons became even broader, thanks to the inclusion of a new mode dedicated to Mars.

Mars in Google Earth is the result of Google’s Space Act Agreement with NASA, which enabled NASA Ames researchers to work closely with Google engineers to collect and format Martian data layers. Now anyone can see 3D views of Valles Marineris, enjoy easy access to visible and infrared global maps, a browseable layer of the most interesting high-resolution satellite images and excerpts from a travel guide for the planet. You can search for and view well-known Martian landmarks, follow NASA rover tracks and view 360-degree panoramas of the planet’s surface displayed in Street View style, letting you literally explore Mars from ground level.

Photo taken from the Mars Rover landing spot, available for viewing in Google Earth.

“Mars in Google Earth is something that everyone can use. You can simply crank up this tool and have access to images and data that scientists have been using for decades.” – Steve Ruff

Steve Ruff’s team contributes knowledge to this vast storehouse, then uses the data to plan the rover’s future activities. Dr. Ruff can consult Mars in Google Earth to choose routes, study terrain from numerous angles and visualize the rover’s trip through the landscape in real time.

When the meager wintertime sunlight threatens to kill the solar-powered rover, Steve uses Mars in Google Earth to help search for a safe place to park for the season. So while the platform helps us Earthlings to appreciate the beauty and science behind our nearest planetary neighbor, researchers can easily use it for collaboration and outreach, making it a tremendously powerful tool for the international planetary science community.

Steve Ruff, Mars Rover scientist, has used Mars in Google to plan the actual route for the Mars Rover.