Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

Google in space

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 14, 2006
(Issue 2415, Digital Video Creation)

A few weeks back, we looked at Google Earth – a downloadable application that is globe and atlas (and travel guide and encyclopedia) all in one.

No less ambitious are Google's similar projects for two other members of the solar system – Google Moon and Google Mars.

Obviously, these are limited to the geographic features of each planet – their cultural highlights being somewhat lacking.

To the moon!

Google Moon isn't complete. Not yet, anyway. And it's not a downloadable application like Google Earth. Rather, it's an extension of the Google Maps site.

And it only contains a small swath of the moon – the band where all six (so far) manned landings took place from 1969 to 1972.

Still, it's a neat resource, and because it's not an application, it's a lot quicker to check out – just power up your browser and go.

The red planet

Google Mars is far more developed, which is a bit odd considering we have studied the moon a lot more than we have Mars.

The martian map can be viewed in either natural light, infrared or topographical. The infrared map includes some high-resolution close-up regions where you can really see some incredible detail.

And the "About Google Mars" page hints at the possibility of a future standalone Google Mars application built using the Google Earth engine.

Weaknesses and promise

Right now, both Google Moon and Google Mars are pretty bare-bones. But the fact that Google has poured resources into developing them shows there is a demand for such information resources.

Their existence also shows that we're getting closer and closer to the kind of information technology that only exists as science fiction right now. Watching the various Star Trek series and movies, it was always amazing to see the crew members ask the computer to show them a local star map – and then see the holographic three-dimensional chart the special effects whizzes came up with.

As portions of Google Earth have shown, the computer technology to generate those kinds of images now exists in most homes in the developed world.

Could we have a full three-dimensional map of our corner of the galaxy, as on Star Trek?

Sure – if someone wanted to invest the tends of thousands of man-hours to construct it.

And Google might – if they can figure out a way to make it profitable. Or at least break-even.

Or a government might decide this is something that ought to belong to the public and step up and fund such an effort.

But my guess is that within a decade, Google Earth will be complete in that you will be able to view fully three-dimensional representations of every corner of the Earth – drop in and look up at the Eiffel Tower or the Southern Alps in New Zealand or the Egyptian or Mexican pyramids.

Those images and that data all exist – it just takes the man-hours to tie them all together into a single interface. Many man-hours.

And then to add in all the data and images we have of the rest of the solar system – in addition to Mars, Jupiter's and Saturn's systems (the main planet plus all their assorted moons and rings) are fairly well documented.

To infinity, and beyond!

Our geographic information on nearby star systems is much more limited, of course, as we've yet to send probes to even our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri. Nearest in this case still means pretty darn far-off, as Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light years from us. Given that light travels at 185,000 miles per second, 4.3 light years is a ways off with current propulsion systems.

Still, astronomers do have the local stellar neighborhood mapped out – in all directions for the nearest couple hundred light years.

While no – okay, few – PCs on the market today come with the capability to generate holograms on the fly, they do have graphics cards that would make possible a 3-D sky chart. We know which neighboring stars are binary systems, which ones have large, Jovian-type gas giant planets, and we know how large and of what type each star is (blue giant, white dwarf, etc.)

So even with the information we now have, a Google Earth-type interface to catalog all this info would take up a ton of storage.

Then again, multi-terabyte disk drives are already on the market.

Google Milky Way?

It's only a matter of time.