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Image: Russia from space | << Satellite imagery shows Russia as it might look to an astronaut floating above at night.

Image Courtesy of NASA

Your Mission

Help an astronaut figure out why a string of lights zigzags across southern Russia.

Briefing

"What IS that, Houston?"

The question crackles from your headphones at NASA mission control. An astronaut aboard a space shuttle orbiting the Earth wants to know why a garland of lights stretches the length of southern Russia (see image above). And as a GIS (geographic information systems) specialist, you've got to give her an answer.

A few clicks of the mouse bring up maps that look at Russia in different ways: population density, average annual temperature, transportation density, and railroad networks.

The next step would be to have your GIS computer program layer the maps on top of each other so you would be able to look for relationships among the different types of data. But—CRASH!—the computer freezes. It looks like you'll have to use the best geographic information system of all: your brain. Compare the information on these maps in your mind to come up with an answer for your baffled astronaut.

F A M I L Y - X  F I L E S

Younger Xpeditioners: Look at a road map of your home state or province, then examine a physical map of the same area. (You may be able to find both at MapMachine .) Does the natural landscape offer any clues as to why some roads are straight and some curvy?

Older Xpeditioners: Imagine you're a developer trying to decide where to build your latest luxury subdivision. What kind of maps would you need to make your decision?

Parents: In this activity, your children can do some low-tech GIS by examining maps side by side. The kids will be able to compare data and draw inferences in much the same way they would using GIS.

To introduce your children to the many types of maps available for any given area, find your home region in MapMachine's dynamic maps . Then click "Select a New Theme" to see your home in different ways—and to see true GIS at work.