Google Mars updated!

By Phil Plait | March 13, 2009 12:31 pm
Google Earth icon

The folks who brought you the amazing Google Earth and Google Sky have also created Google Mars, a virtual map of the Red Planet. All three are packed into one place, for easy download. If you’ve never used this, download it now! It’s an extremely cool and fun way to explore the Earth, the sky, and now Mars. You can roam the surface, zoom in and out, take closer hi-res looks at some features, and just generally lose hours of your life to this… but in a good way.

Today Google announced three new updates for Mars, and they’re pretty nifty. One is an overlay that shows old historical maps, like the ones Percival Lowell made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when he fancied Mars was crisscrossed with canals dug by a dying race. You can take that trip to Victorian Mars, all without having to oustretch your arms and say, "Barsoooooom."

The second is called Live From Mars, which is feature that will automatically update itself with the very latest imagery from NASA Mars probes. In other words, you can see the newest images of Mars pretty much as soon as the scientists do! You can also fly along with these missions and see where they’ve been and where they’re headed as they map the surface of the Red planet.

The third feature is canned guided tours: you open them and get a tour of Mars narrated by Ira Flatow from NPR and Bill Nye (whom I hear is some sort of Science Guy). When you open these tours, Google Mars will show you the spots being discussed, and zoom in and out to show you what’s what on our neighbor planet.

Google Mars view of the volcano Olympus Mons
(featured in my tour below; click to embiggen).

You can even make your own tour! I decided to try out this feature, so I made one myself. You do need to do some minimal prep for it to work. First, download Google Earth. I’ll rate that a 5 on the "duh" scale.

Next, grab the KMZ file I made called Google_Mars_Intro_Tour.kmz (do NOT save this link; click it to go to a free file storage site, and click where it says "Download for free with FileFactory Basic"; it’s an 800kB file). This file is just a set of instructions for Google Mars and has my tour encoded in it. Save it on your computer wherever you want but make it accessible.

Google Earth toolbar

Now, open Google Earth. Once it’s open and you see our lovely blue planet, go to the top where there is a menu bar of icons. One looks like Saturn. Click it, and then click Mars in the drop-down menu. Mars will suddenly appear!

Google Earth sidebar

Almost there. In the left sidebar is a menu called Layers. In there is a heading called Spacecraft Imagery. Click the little triangle, then click the button next to HiRISE Image Browser. That turns on the layer giving you images from the HiRISE camera.

Right above Spacecraft Imagery is Global Maps. Click the triangle, then click in the circle next to Visible Imagery.

That’s it! Now double click the KML file you downloaded (by the way, you have to have Mars open before you open the KMZ file or else this won’t work at all). When you do, you’ll hear my dulcet but mildly goofy tones, taking you on a brief tour of Mars. Just sit back and let Google do the work for you. The whole thing is less than two minutes, and at the end I get a little conspiratorial.

This whole package has obvious educational benefits; you can now show people what you want them to see, in the order you want them to see it, and even with your own narration! This works for Earth and for Sky as well. I can see this being used a lot in the classroom.

Google Earth/Sky/Mars is so much fun. You can bookmark places, save them, send them to other people, and a lot more. This is an incredible tool, and it’s lots of fun to play. So go! Explore Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA

Comments (40)

  1. Quiet_Desperation

    Hmph! I see they Photoshopped out all the alien artifacts. I will be informing Hoagland forthwith!

    Oops, no, I can’t until Sirius is 33 degrees above the Eastern horizon. D’oh!

  2. Jeff Fite

    I’m looking for Dejah Thoris’ veranda. She’s gotta come outside some time.

  3. Mchl

    Has anyone found Atlantis on Mars yet?


    Aha! That’s the proof the one found on Earth is The Real Thing!

  4. BoneheadFX

    And for some extra fun, go to Tools/Enter Flight Simulator and fly an F-16 over Mars. YEE HAW! I love this stuff!! :)

  5. Wiseguy Jasoomians.


  6. Oooo…I’ve been wishing for another way to waste time on the weekends! 😀

  7. pwl

    Sweet Mars Excursion! Loved the tours… now about that secret conspiracy stuff…

    Are the Americans and Russians staking out land claims with all these splattered missions to Mars? Good question to ask on Friday the 13th… cue spooky music…

    The tours are fantastic… I’d love to see more of those and for earth too.

    When will they get a non-cheesey moon googler?

    I was wondering since we’re doing such a great job of terrorforming earth what could we really do to make mars inhabitable… need an atmosphere… for that we need a magnetic field of sufficient strength… for that you need to impart energy to the core of mars to warm the puppy up and get it’s dynamic electromagnetic field working again… assuming of course that there would be sufficient protection from the solar wind blowing away the atmosphere we could then create a green house there… or could we? What would it really take?

    Mars just goes to show us that we really need to be careful before we mess with earth much more. Very careful.

  8. TheBlackCat

    For people using Linux, I also suggest taking a look at Marble. It has several maps for Earth, 3 of the moon (photo, elevation, and shaded relief), as well as a photographic map of Mars and radar map of Venus, all with various places labeled. It also supports downloading additional maps in the future, although there are currently only 17 maps available. It isn’t as high-resolution as Google Earth (except the street map version), but otherwise it is quite good.

  9. Gazz

    Only slightly off-topic, but did anyone else know that today (March 13) is the 228th anniversary of the day William Herschell discovered the planet Uranus from the back garden of his house in Bath, England in 1781? I visited it (Herschell’s house, not Uranus) earlier this year and stood on the very spot where the first human discovered a ‘new’ planet!

  10. I love this sort of stuff. Could someone call off all the OEF and OIF sortiers so I can play with this all night instead? Thanks for the Reminder BoneheadFX, I’d forgotten about those features!

    BTW, the comments section for the Pluto list is borked, as well as the go back to front page link on some of the pages, because it takes you to the 10 things about the sun list instead.

  11. Todd W.

    @Larian LeQuella

    As Phil noted in the 10 Things post on Pluto:

    Also, please note that comments are disabled due to a software bug in the gallery that grinds the gears of WordPress. They’ll be turned on when traffic for this post dies down.

  12. Fun Fact.. the flight sim also works on Mars so you can buzz the Spirit and Opportunity rovers in an F16.
    Sky is a funny colour though.

  13. Pieter Kok

    Check out Victori crater. You can click on the little camaera icons, and then pan to the view on the ground, as taken by Opportunity. Very cool!

  14. Pieter Kok

    Another good one: go to the Crater of Clues and click on the photo. There is a “being of light” in the photograph! 😉

  15. Elwood Herring

    Thanks Phil – great stuff.

    (Hmmm… blue sky on Mars…)

  16. If you like an overview look at Mars, NASA World Wind is also a quality program. I like Google Earth for the close ups, but let’s face it, its photograph patchwork setup gives a splotchy and ugly general overview…though the date feature is a bit of a loophole in that regard.

  17. I was zooming around Mars to look at the poles. As I watched the globe revolved, I noticed some pictures tagged to specific spots on Mars. On closer inspection I saw these included the Aye-Aye Lemur, Rodrigues Fruit Bat, Komodo Dragon – my Location tags for Douglas Adams’s Last Chance to See had gotten inserted onto the Martian globe!

  18. Now, can someone set up a tour to visit the places that Jon took Laurie in Watchmen?

  19. So what the heck is going on at Latitude 29°23’11.33″N, Longitude 73°17’3.60″E? The image is in extremely high resolution, in multiple passes, so this is obviously an area of special study, but nothing is flagged here. For the life of me, it looks like a chunk of canyon wall has detached itself and crashed down, scattering debris and sending up what appear to be clouds of dust. But I don’t find any references to this as a photographed avalanche. Does anybody know offhand?

  20. CaptXpendable

    Check out the Google front page today

  21. Hakobus

    Didn’t get any audio on Phil’s tour, the camera flew around Mars all-right, but there was no sound. The built-in tours by Flatow and Nye worked well, so I’m guessing it’s a problem with Phil’s .kmz?

  22. Hmph. I just updated my Google Earth to 5.0 and clicked on Mars and it crashed.

    I think it’s time to install it on my Mac! 😀

  23. Sandy L

    Thank you! I have always been fascinated by the sky and I love learning more.

  24. Levi in NY

    Check out the new Google doodle! It’s Mars-tastic!

  25. Brango

    @Hakobus – I didn’t get any audio either, but the tour flew around. Other built-in tours worked fine.

    Phil, any clues?

  26. Bootsman

    Same here, no audio on Phil’s tour.

  27. Scotty

    No audio on tour. :(

  28. Weird, the audio woks for me. There are some issues Google was having with the tours, and I sent them a note. They’re lookign into it.

    Harold, try here:

  29. IVAN3MAN

    I’m getting no audio — period!

    Phil, err… “woks”? You doing some Chinese cooking, then? :-)

  30. IVAN3MAN

    Audio problem aside, Phil, I enjoyed “lookign” at your tour! :-)

  31. Phil, I saw that one when I was looking for information on Martian avalanches. But that one is near the pole, and this one is in the Nilosyrtis Mensae region – apparently corresponding in latitude and longitude to northern India (that’s where my pin shows up when I switch back to Google Earth.)

    I do a visual approach to this “avalanche” in a post here:

  32. Ugh…while we’re waiting for my comment to get out of moderation, I suppose I could just suggest you use Google Mars to “Fly To” PSP_003231_2095 (its a HiRISE image) and look at the canyon edge in the top middle (blue stripe) region.

  33. Daniel J. Andrews

    Ah, I’m not the only one with no audio then.

    On another note, check out GoogleSky. You can locate the sun and see where it is at the current time, and you can make it move across the sky. Right now GoogleSky shows the sun in Aquarius, yet astrology tells me it should be in Pisces. Perhaps both extremes are wrong and the truth is that the sun is somewhere in the middle (I took a journalism class once) . 😉

  34. crlwllns

    Here’s something, I’ll bet, no ones seen yet! Go about, ‘653.40 Miles’, from ‘the face on mars’,
    @ a heading of ‘28.59 degrees’. Look Carefully, & with a ‘little patience’, there is a ‘crater’.
    in this location, that DOES HAVE ‘GIANT ALIEN MAN EATING PLANTS’! Now IF, You can’t find this, I have a ‘Youtube channel’, that ‘Has Alot’, of ‘GoogleMARS Hidden Secrets’, in a
    video called, ‘The Real Life, On MARS!”

    I also ‘found out’, that the ‘Rover’, may Never Had Gone To Mars! As, when i ‘processed any
    ‘photos’, from the ‘Rovers Adventures’, afterwards, ‘ALL THE GRASS “SHOWS” GREEN! And,
    ‘ALL I DID, “Was Click, “I’M FEELING LUCKY”!

  35. Find OUT, about “The Other HALF, of MARS”! @ my ‘name’! (BUT! ‘You Can LEAVE, Your
    “High School Diploma’s & College Degree’s ‘@Home’! YOU WILL NOT, ‘Be Needing THEM’!)

    There’s been a ‘little rock’ shown lately ‘on the newz’. It’s about ‘a fossil’, that WUZ ALIVE,
    “Millions Of Years Ago’! Well, ‘maybe in the RED Part’! But, ‘the GREEN Parts’, “There IS LIFE”! (Check Out, “HUMANS Homes, On MARS?!” @ ‘my name’!) YET! “BEWARE” Of;
    “Bare Naked BOOBS, On MARS?!?” As, ‘You MIGHT ‘FEEL LIKE A BOOB’, When You GET,
    “The GIST Of It”! (And, DO NOT! “Let ‘The RUSSIANS/CHINESE’, KNOW About ‘THIS'”!)

    And, ‘When You Are DONE, with All This’! PLEASE REMEMBER! “WOMEN ARE, ‘MUCH SMARTER’, Than Men”! MUCH S-M-A-R-T-E-R! Good Night, Boyz, Time To WAKE UP……!
    (“JUNK ASTRONOMY/BAD SCIENCE”? Only WHEN, “Men Are Smarter, Than WOMEN”!)


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