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Google’s Street View is mapping Earth’s most Mars-like terrain

Mars on Earth: A Visit to Devon Island

Devon Island is located in Canada’s Arctic and is the world’s largest uninhabited island.

With its polar climate and challenging terrain, the island is said to be the most Mars-like place on Earth, and consequently has become a research center for scientists working for the Mars Institute and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, among others.

Google Earth recently became involved, too, collaborating with the Haughton Mars Project (HMP) to create Street View imagery of the island so that we can all explore this wonderfully unique landscape.

Google’s Katja Minitsenka, who led the Street View project on Devon Island, described the scientists’ setup as “much like a future base on Mars” as it lacks the kind of infrastructure most of us take for granted.

She said the experience on the island “provided a real insight into how humans who will go to Mars will explore the new planet,” adding that detailed planning and preparation is key.

“Every morning, before heading out to collect Street View on all-terrain vehicles, we would brief as a group to make sure everybody knew the plan that day: who was leading, who would ride rear, and who was staying at camp to cook and handle maintenance,” she wrote in a post describing her time on Devon Island.

The Street View team spent a week capturing imagery of places of interest. These included Haughton Crater, an impact crater 20-kilometers (12.5 miles) in diameter; Astronaut Canyon, similar in many ways to some of the V-shaped, winding valleys found on the Red Planet; and the ancient lake beds of Breccia Hills.

“What strikes you most about Devon Island is how vast and desolate everything is,” Minitsenka wrote. “Yet every rock, hill, and canyon tells a story. Breccia Hills, for example, is filled with shatter cones, rocks created by meteor impact millions of years ago.”

The video (top) was shot entirely on a Pixel 3 smartphone and shows some of the work being undertaken by the scientists at the base. You’ll also get to meet King Kong, the resident dog that works as an early-warning system for any polar bears that wander close — an issue future Mars travelers definitely won’t have to contend with.

As for Google’s mapping project, Minitsenka says: “There are no streets, but there’ll be Street View.” In its early days, Street View consisted of imagery taken only from its camera-equipped cars, but in recent years it has increasingly headed off-road using its backpack Trekker cameras, a package that it recently updated to make it easier to carry.

You can check out the Devon Island content here.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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