I get a few emails every day regarding Google Earth’s “historical imagery” feature, so now seems like a good time to revisit the topic. Frank first wrote about this new feature back in early 2009 when it was released as part of Google Earth 5. I’ll leave his content below, as it’s a great introduction to how it works, but first we need to discuss one oft-overlooked aspect of historical imagery.
Historical Imagery can be newer
We mentioned it back in February of this year, but it’s important to realize that the newest imagery in Google Earth can often be found in this historical imagery feature.
Google is very careful about the imagery that they release to the default layer. If new imagery is good (but not good enough), they’ll often it put it in the historical imagery layer. Reasons why it might not be “good enough” can be due to some clouds in the way, haze/pollution, sun at the wrong angle (lots of shadows), and things of that nature. Despite whatever minor shortcoming it may have, the imagery still may be of value to you, so be sure to check for it.
How to use the Historical Imagery feature
Google already had more satellite and aerial imagery available for free than anyone. Now, they’ve added a new feature to new Google Earth 5 that let’s you turn back the clock and see other imagery they have for locations around the world. Click on the little “Clock” icon in the upper middle (or the “View->Historical Imagery” menu item). A time slider appears (see below) showing available imagery. If other imagery is available in your current view, you see little tic marks on the slider. Drag the slider (or click the left/right buttons) to see earlier or (or even newer) imagery.
For example, here’s a shot of the famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium from the 2008 Beijing Olympics as it appeared under construction on February 17, 2007:
And, here is a video showing this all in action:
This feature is amazing! The amount of data Google is storing must be immense! Several instances of imagery for millions of square kilometers! You may be able to see how your house changed over the years, or see aerial pictures of cities from decades ago. Expect to see lots of posts on this new feature.
In addition, Google has put up their own post with examples of historical imagery in action.
(Originally posted Feb 2009)