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What Would Mars Have Looked Like Covered in Water?

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The western hemisphere of Mars, with the volcano Olympus Mons on the horizon. Photo courtesy Kevin Gill.

In September, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover found remnants of an ancient stream bed on Mars—evidence that our red neighbor was, at one point, a blue planet covered in water. Now, Kevin Gill, a software engineer, has given us a vision of what a watery Mars might have looked like.

According to Smithsonian's Smart News blog, Gill used elevation measurements based on the observations of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to create his vision. But he also took artistic liberties with his creation by exaggerating the topographic features approximately 10 times, choosing the height of the atmosphere and its clouds, determining a consistent sea level, and picking what areas would be covered by forest and desert. "I tried to envision how the land would appear given certain features or the effects of likely atmospheric climate," the engineer writes on his Google+ page. "For example, I didn’t see much green taking hold within the area of Olympus Mons and the surrounding volcanoes, both due to the volcanic activity and the proximity to the equator (thus a more tropical climate)."

To create the deserts, Gill used textures from the Sahara and the sands in Australia, and based the tropical and subtropical greens on the rainforests in South America and Africa. "As the terrain gets higher or lower in latitude I added darker flora along with tundra and glacial ice," he writes. "These northern and southern areas textures are largely taken from around northern Russia."


Photo courtesy Kevin Gill.

Gill hopes that his blue marble version of Mars will trigger the imagination, even if it isn't a totally scientific vision.

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Space
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

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science
What Makes a 'Moon'? (The Answer Is More Complicated Than You'd Think)
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Not all moons look like the spherical glowing orb that hovers above Earth. In fact, to be a moon, a space rock technically only has to be the natural satellite of a star’s satellite.

That said, these rocks don’t all look, or act, alike. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types, and they all have unique behaviors. For example, Jupiter has 53 known moons—including the solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede—and many of them have elliptical, backwards orbits. Meanwhile, Mars has two moons, and they're irregularly-shaped, dark satellites that orbit the planet’s equator in circles.

Since there are hundreds of moons—and even more conditional ones—in our solar system, this raises a question: Should we deem each and every one of these secondary satellites a “moon”? And if not, should the distinguishing criteria include factors like orbit, size, shape, or visibility from a planet’s surface?

MinuteEarth’s Kate Yoshida explores these questions in the video below.

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