Wanna take a trip to Mars, without donning a spacesuit?
Try the new Mars map compiled for online use by Arizona State University, in collaboration with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Microsoft. Philip Christensen, Regents' Professor of geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, calls it "the best global map of Mars to date."
The zoomable, interactive map sounds like kind of a Google Earth for the Red Planet -- we can't tell you what it's like to use it, though. The site has crashed this afternoon because of heavy traffic. An error message tells users to check back after 6 p.m. (If you're jonesing for a fix right now, Google does, in fact, have its own, lesser Mars maps).
According to an ASU news release, 21,000 images of Mars were assembled to make the map. Don't try looking for those cute, little Mars Rovers, though -- the smallest features seen on the map are at least 100 yards across.
Geeks like us are bound to kill a few hours panning the planet's surface. Who knows, maybe you'll be the first to spot the new "face on Mars" or some other crazy feature nobody's noticed before. If you really want to help NASA, (whose director may be busy conducting outreach to the Muslim world), you can help align pieces of Mars maps through another online program, Be A Martian.
With the future of U.S. space missions iffier than ever, cyberspace probably is as close to Mars as humans will get in the next few decades.
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