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Google Street View Takes the Armchair Explorer to Mars (Actually, the Canadian Arctic)

Now you can explore one of the most Mars-like places on Earth from the comfort of your own home, thanks to a new partnership between Google and the NASA Haughton-Mars Project.

Located in the Canadian Arctic, Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on Earth. With extremely cold temperatures and a dry, barren terrain, Devon Island probably isn't a place you'd want to visit for a vacation. However, if you're training for a mission to Mars, this inhospitable polar desert is one of the best Mars analogs on Earth. 

Although the island has no permanent residents, it is home to the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), a field research project funded by NASA and other international partners that's dedicated to figuring how humans can live on other worlds — particularly Mars. Last summer, when a team of researchers set out for the annual expedition to Devon Island, they brought along a group of explorers from Google to put together a virtual tour of the island.

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The Google team not only gathered the imagery needed for Google Earth, Google Maps and Street View, but they also documented all the behind-the-scenes action in a short documentary that you can watch on YouTube

"The main objective for Google at HMP-2018 was to collect Street View imagery to allow Google Earth and Google Maps users to visit Devon Island virtually, and to create a Google Earth guided tour illustrating, via factual narrative, how Devon Island is so similar to Mars," officials with the SETI Institute said in a statement

"We are excited about this new partnership with Google on the Haughton-Mars Project and about the data products being released," Pascal Lee, director of the NASA HMP at NASA Ames Research Center, said in the statement. "They allow us to share with the world some of the Mars-like wonders of the site and the fieldwork that we do."  

The guided virtual tour of Devon Island by Google Earth includes a close-up look at Haughton crater, an impact basin approximately 13 miles (20 kilometers) wide that is believed to have formed when a large meteor hit Earth 23 million years ago. A large lake once occupied the crater, but the water has since completely drained, leaving behind a dry lakebed. 

Much like the gullies seen on Mars, Devon Island is covered in gullies that line steep slopes. The island even has its own version of the mysterious disappearing and reappearing lines on Mars known as recurring slope lineae. Scientists still haven't figured out what's up with these transient features on Mars, but Devon Island may hold some clues, the guided tour says. 

Virtual explorers can also scope out Astronaut Canyon, a fault line that "was carved into a monumental canyon by glaciers, making it a glacial trough valley," the tour says. The canyon's shape "is similar to many large, winding, V-shaped valleys on Mars, such as the tributary valleys of Ius Chasma, which is part of the gigantic Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars." Researchers believe that glaciers and giant ice formations on ancient Mars likely carved out Valles Marineris — the largest canyon in the solar system. 

You can take the guided virtual tour of Devon Island and all its Mars-like features at https://g.co/earth/devonisland

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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