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Discover Mars For Yourself Through THEMIS

written by: •edited by: RC Davison•updated: 6/30/2011

While scientists are busily making their discoveries, everyday people often end up feeling like there's nothing they can do to participate. However, there's a new feature out there that allows absolutely anyone, regardless of their background, to help out with Mars research. Here's how:

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    What Is THEMIS?

    THEMIS, or Thermal Emission Imaging System, was launched with the 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter as a combined infrared and visual spectrum camera. It is joined by the GRS, the Gamma Ray Spectrometer, and the MARIE, the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment. THEMIS was developed and designed by researchers at Arizona State University, and is currently managed from the Mars Space Flight Facility at the same place.

    THEMIS is intended to help scientists do more detailed research into the geology of Mars, specifically its mineralogy and geomorphology, as well as searching for any thermal hotspots that might exist just beneath the surface of Mars—hints as to any possible volcanic activity.

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    THEMIS Itself

    THEMIS instrument, prelaunch. Credit: NASA
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    Google Meets Mars

    Google Earth was a popular addition to the Google continuum of helpful tools. With the software already developed and the audience there, it was pretty easy for programmers at Google to come up with a Google Mars. It uses the same free software as for Google Earth, and the same easy, intuitive interface. The only difference is that you'll be soaring over Olympus Mons instead of Everest on your computer screen. To access, just go to the “planet” view and select Mars—at current the only planet available for viewing, though adding in others is a distinct possibility for the future.

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    How To Help

    There's more data coming through than is physically possible for Mars researchers to sift through for themselves, and even the keen eyes of a trained scientist might miss a thing or two. Thus, having more eyes to go through the bounty of information would be a great boon to researchers.

    So, what is it that you can do to help? Well, take a look around Google Mars. See anything that interests you? An out-of-place shadow, some interesting sediment patterns? What you can do is suggest anything that catches your eye to researchers along the orbital track of THEMIS after registering with the project. With this free registry comes your own profile where other users can see your suggestions—and which ones were taken up by THEMIS researchers to be photographed.

    There's a limit to your involvement, with a maximum of ten suggestions per week per person. Also, only visual wavelength suggestions can be made for THEMIS, which has a higher resolution than the infrared instrument anyway.

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    Infrared & Visual Images From THEMIS

    Infrared example from THEMIS. Credit: NASA.Infrared example from THEMIS. Credit: NASA.Day/Night Infrared examples from THEMIS. NASA.Infrared example from THEMIS. Credit: NASA.Visual example from THEMIS. Credit: NASA.
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    Live From Mars

    Another THEMIS feature of Google Mars is the ability to view the images that THEMIS shoots live - or as close to live as signals transmitted from a faraway orbit can be anyway. The most recent of THEMIS's images can be featured on the Google Mars view, once this "Live From Mars" layer has been enabled.