TEMPE, Ariz. ­ A new planet-spanning Web site, Google Mars (mars.google.com) launches today on what would have been Mars astronomer Percival Lowell’s 151st birthday. At the heart of the new Web site lies a gigantic picture-puzzle image of Mars created by researchers at Arizona State University’s Mars Space Flight Facility in Tempe, Arizona.

Also today, ASU and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are releasing to the public and scientists alike a movie, “Flight Into Mariner Valley.” This exciting, narrated video takes viewers on a simulated flight through the grandest canyon in the solar system, Valles Marineris on Mars.

Both new developments involve a giant mosaic of Mars that combines more than 17,000 individual photos meticulously stitched together and blended. The photos were taken by ASU’s Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, a multi-band space camera. Able to take pictures in 15 visible and infrared “colors,” THEMIS was designed by ASU scientists and built by Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing. It now orbits Mars aboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

“Mars scientists the world over use THEMIS photos,” says ASU planetary geologist Phil Christensen, designer and principal investigator for the THEMIS camera. “It’s great that thanks to Google Mars, now everyone, everywhere can explore this neighbor world using their own computer browser.”

The images in the giant THEMIS mosaic were taken by infrared light and reveal details as small as 750 feet (230 meters) across. They provide a unique view of Mars, melding day and night images. Areas that are cooler appear in darker tones, while warm regions and features appear light-colored.

Several areas of Mars with special interest for scientists can be explored in even more detail using the THEMIS infrared mosaic at Google Mars. These include the giant volcano Olympus Mons, the landing sites for the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and the vast equatorial grand canyon of Mars, Valles Marineris.

The Valles Marineris mosaic, for example, shows more than twice the detail of the global map.

“Valles Marineris ­ or Mariner Valley ­ is the kind of place where scientists want to look at both the small details and the big picture,” says Christensen. “It’s more than just a spectacular sight ­ it’s also a geological history book of Mars that we’ve finally begun to open and read.”

More details, stories, and links to the video are online at: http://themis.asu.edu/vallesspecial

Images at: http://themis.asu.edu/googlepress

Image 1:

A UNIQUE VIEW OF MARS emerges in a new global mosaic image that forms the heart of Google Mars. This image displays the part of the global mosaic that shows Valles Marineris. Imaged by THEMIS in infrared light, cooler areas show as darker, while warmer regions appear lighter Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University

Image 2:

MARS’ GRAND CANYON – Valles Marineris, or Mariner Valley – outsizes Arizona’s Grand Canyon in every aspect. This still shows a scene from Flight Into Mariner Valley, a dramatic computer animation that takes viewers on a flight through Valles Marineris.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University