How Google Earth imagery works

Here at Google Earth Blog we get a few questions almost every day through our contact form. We encourage you to use if it you ever have a question about any aspect of Google Earth.
With that in mind, here are a few of the most common ones we get related to imagery:

Do you have imagery for August 15, 2011 at 3:50pm? My house/car/business was broken into and we want to catch the thieves.

Sadly, this is incredibly unlikely. Because of the way that Google Earth imagery works, any given area is typically only updated once every few years. The odds that they captured imagery at the precise moment you need it, along with the the odds of the imagery actually capturing a detail that helps with the investigation, are very remote.

The imagery in my city is 3 years old. When will it be updated again?

The short answer is that we have no idea, as Google doesn’t release that kind of information ahead of time. We recommend that you sign up to be notified when new imagery is released in your area, and be sure to keep an eye on the “historical imagery” as it’s sometimes newer than the base imagery.

How can I get a live streaming view of Google Earth?

In short, you can’t. Despite what you see in movies like “Men in Black”, the government can’t either. While it seems likely that we’ll have a live-streaming Google Earth in the coming decades, the technology simply isn’t there yet. Not only would you need thousands of additional satellites capturing imagery (and the corresponding servers on the ground to process it in real-time), but there are also images with daylight, weather, angles, etc. Beyond that, I’m sure we’ll see issues with privacy begin to arise as well.

We again refer you to the “about Google Earth imagery” post to see how complex it is to add imagery to Google Earth. Having to cover all 57.5 million square miles of earth in real-time will be quite a challenge, but one that I know engineers are looking forward to tackling.

Be sure to check out the full basics section for more answers, don’t hesitate to ask if you have other questions.

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. 3 years old images? I’d be happy with that, try 6 for where I live. It has now become pretty useless to use in many ways.
    Apple Maps is much more up to date though.
    I think tv and movies has a lot to answer for though, Big Bang Theory was very guilty of it for their wedding episode for example!

  2. The technology for streaming satellite views basically exists today. It would be possible to have some sort of live streaming view of the full earth from a geosynchronous orbit, or maybe some sort of 1 frame per minute webcam view. It would also be possible to have some sort of live view from low earth orbit from a satellite, pretty much like you can already see it on NASA-TV with views from the ISS or formerly from the Shuttle. In any case it would be a secondary byproduct of something else, because launching a satellite just for that kind of purpose would be too expensive and impossible to sell to people in order to refinance it (would you pay for a subscription to something like that? how much?). What will never exist in the foreseeable and not so foreseeable future is a live satellite view in high resolution in the same sense that Google Maps/Earth has to offer. You’re simply hitting the edge of physical limits there, besides the fact that that’s not exactly how cameras on a satellite work anyway (they actually work more like your flatbed scanner than your photo or video camera). It wouldn’t work from low earth orbit like that, because the satellite would move by too quickly. And it wouldn’t work from geosynchronous orbit because you can’t get that kind of resolution and image quality from that distance anymore. Pretty much the same reasons why governments don’t have this capability to spy upon people either. Despite what conspiracy nuts like to believe, it truly doesn’t work like in the movies.

  3. Markus – Check out for a taste of “what will never exist in the foreseeable and not so foreseeable future.”
    And here’s a sample of how 2D video feeds can generate 3D models:

    And not all the video/imagery needs to come from “satellites”. It is well-known that most of google’s imagery is collected from normal aircraft (planes). High-altitude drone airships are already in testing by the military, as well.
    Rocket science and satellite-launching technology are not at all a requirement to do novel things in the geospatial imaging world.
    Quit saying it can’t be done, doesn’t exist, and never will. They said that about a lot of things.

  4. In my opinion, 3 years is a very long interval. especially if a certain area is undergoing rapid development etc, the landscape will be changing all the time.

  5. Fr. C. Francis Schmidt says:

    Why is Tubbatha Reef blurred?

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