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Microsoft and NASA’s interactive Mars tour

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If you plan on using Mars in your next science fiction masterpiece, Microsoft just made your life a whole lot easier.

Microsoft Research’s Earth, Energy and Environment program, working with NASA, crunched three years of data to produce an interactive Mars map. To view the map, you can download a stand-alone program for Microsoft OS, or you can use a web-client if you have a Mac (sorry Linux users, you are screwed).

Unfortunately, it is a Microsoft product, so it doesn’t work as smoothly as you’d like (on my first run-through, it refused to download new images as I zoomed in on the planet). But once you get past the necessary Microsoft glitches, the Mars data speaks for itself. Doing fly overs of the red planet is goddamn fun.

My favorite Mars terrestrial formation? It goes without saying: the Galle Crater Happy Face, which Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used in Watchmen.

The Watchmen panel (via Dennette’s Watchmen Page): 
Galle crater watchmen happy face

The WorldWide Telescope image:

galle crater happy face

Also: Even though the Mars rover panoramas are kind of old at this point, they still stand out as the awesomest fucking things ever. In this program, they function kind of like a Google Maps street view of Mars. NASA really needs to get on top of this and send a pack of nerdy Google technicians in their nerdy Google vans to the red planet.

I am a particular fan of this shot from Opportunity (dubbed Rub al Khali) of rover tracks disappearing into the horizon of a great Martian desert.

mars rover opportunity tracks rub al khali

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