Google Earth has done much to help humans understand their planet, opening the eyes of many to new views of places near and far. But for some time now, the Google Earth team has failed to prioritize the obvious needs of a very select but important potential audience: Martians.

Yes, Martians.

Google's Martian userbase isn't growing very rapidly these days (exact numbers are confidential), but in anticipation of the day that it does: we're pleased to announce that this week's Google Earth 5.0 release includes a new mode dedicated to Mars -- and yes, even Earthlings can enjoy it.

Martian users will definitely appreciate the fact that they're no longer stuck viewing Earth's inadequately-sized geological features. Now they can see 3D views of Valles Marineris on Mars, which is 10 times as long and 7 times as wide as Earth's largest canyon. They also have easy access to visible and infrared global maps, a browsable layer of the most interesting high-resolution satellite images, and excerpts from a travel guide for the planet. They can search for and view many well-known Martian landmarks, like the face on Mars. Last, but certainly not least, we've made it easy to follow NASA rover tracks and view 360-degree panoramas of the Martian surface, taken by the rovers.

The rover panoramas are displayed in Street View style, allowing you to both pan around and zoom all the way in to see details. But note that Street View's current face-blurring technology is only calibrated for human faces, so (at least for the time being) we haven't blurred any Martian faces in NASA's imagery.

We hope that Mars in Google Earth proves useful to Martians, but we also hope it helps those on Earth appreciate the beauty and science behind Earth's nearest planetary neighbor. And because Mars is a part of Google Earth, scientists can easily use it for visualization, collaboration, and outreach, by authoring their own KML data layers for Mars. This gives it the potential to be a very powerful tool for the international planetary science community.

Mars in Google Earth is a direct result of Google's Space Act Agreement with NASA, which enabled NASA Ames researchers to work closely with Google engineers to collect and format data layers for Mars. It follows on the heels of many prior collaborative projects, including previous releases of Google Mars and Google Moon on the web, and Sky in Google Earth.

So download the latest version of Google Earth today, and check out the new "planets" button on the toolbar to see Mars in all its 3D glory:

No red/blue glasses required!