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Planetary Content Project Contributes to Google Mars Release

The most visible success of the Planetary Content project in 2008 was the development of the content for Google Mars 3D, which was released to the world on February 2, 2009 as part of Google Earth 5. Mars 3D includes global-scale and some local-scale 3D terrain; featured satellite images, including captions describing the science behind the breathtaking scenes; detailed maps of the Mars rover traverses, including StreetView-like panoramas; complete browsable indexes of all satellite images taken by the five major orbital cameras; and much more. Besides providing a rich, immersive 3D view of Mars that will aid public understanding of Mars science, Google Mars 3D gives researchers a platform for sharing data similar to what Google Earth provides for Earth scientists. The new Mars mode also allows users to add their own 3D content to the Mars map to share with the world.

Behind-the-scenes preparation by the Planetary Content team for the release of Google Mars 3D involved scaling up satellite image processing pipelines to terapixel scale, scaling up KML generation pipelines to support hundreds of thousands of placemarks, and sorting out the many details of transferring large quantities of processed planetary data from NASA to Google. For more information, see the Google Mars 3D page of the Planetary Content Project web site.

BACKGROUND: The Planetary Content Team at NASA’s Ames Research Center develops software that makes it easier for scientists and engineers to publish and access Earth and planetary imagery and data via the Internet. This includes both educational/outreach content aimed at the general public and technical data aimed at the scientific community. Headquartered in the Intelligent Systems Division at Ames, the team also includes partners in other areas of the agency and elsewhere.

Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement signed in November 2006, NASA and Google agreed to collaborate to make NASA’s data sets available to the world. Six NASA datasets have been specially reprocessed for use with the freely available Google Earth planetary browser software. The maps, imagery, and stories of the Apollo missions available on Google Moon were developed through a collaboration between Google and the Planetary Content Team.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: PDS Headquarters, Science Mission Directorate


Contact: Matt Hancher


Google Mars 3D brings data and images from NASA missions to Google Earth users. The Satellite Imagery layer lets you browse through all the images taken by five of the major Mars orbital cameras, including thumbnails, technical information about each observation, and links to the NASA Planetary Data System where scientists can download the raw data for processing.

High-resolution imagery from the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows details of the the swiss cheese terrain of the south polar residual ice cap.

This false-color image shows the Nili Fossae trough, a candidate landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory. The Nili Fossae region has one of the largest exposures of clay minerals discovered by the mapping spectrometer on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Clay minerals contain water in their mineral structure and may also preserve organic materials, so there is great interest in studying these deposits to understand past environments that could have supported life.

MARS 3D lets you explore the paths of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers through rich 3D terrain and high-resolution imagery, see through the eyes of the robots themselves with full-resolution panoramas, and learn about the data collected at each step of the rovers’ journeys. This image shows the path of Opportunity around the rim of Victoria Crater.

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