Google Earth was first released on June 28, 2005. Now, in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Google Earth’s release, we would like to share just a few examples of the best user applications of Google Earth over the years. As any regular reader of this blog can tell you, Google Earth is a fantastic way to share content and tell stories about the Earth (and other planets and places). The desktop versions of Google Earth (GE) include a lot of features for annotating the map including basic placemarks, GPS tracks, image overlays (for maps, weather satellite photos and more), photo placemarks, time animations, 3D models, and much more. After over a billion downloads of Google Earth, millions of people have shared a vast array of content, and continue to do so after 10 years of the world’s most accurate 3D globe. Google also added many powerful features to GE over the years to allow people to create applications via their browser-based plugin and API, time animations, and even a scripting tour mode inside Google Earth.
Millions of people have found all kinds of strange and interesting sights when viewing Google Earth imagery. A few examples include: marriage proposals on roofs, heart-shaped lakes, guitar-shaped pools, African animals, bizarre hidden military objects, and many more. Thousands of people have found planes in flight and there’s a huge collection curated by the Google Earth Community.
Google Earth is a great way to tell stories in a geo-spatial context. Want to read about the harrowing tale, and see the locations, of explorers in the early 1900s whose ship was trapped in ice in Antarctica and the successful rescue by their daring captain who managed to get help from thousands of miles away? Want to see and hear the places and stories from a famous book called “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum?
Did you know Google Earth has a built-in flight simulator? Very few people realize just how fluid you can move inside the program. You can fly while looking at the world’s most complete and current model of the Earth. In fact, back in 2007 when I produced a cool demonstration of the first detailed terrain model of the Swiss Alps, by mimicing a video of a Swiss Figher Jet through the mountains, it impressed Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt (now Chairman) so much that Google decided to produce the flight simulator mode. An even better way to fly in Google Earth is with a 3D mouse called SpaceNavigator which gives you the ultimate control.
The time animation feature, which Google added a year after it was first released, empowered all sorts of dynamic content and data visualizations. For example, one guy produced an animation of the clouds of Jupiter in motion. Another classic example was a visualization of Hurricane Katrina showing just when it grew the strongest and shows satellites views as it approached and struck New Orleans.
The advent of the browser plugin version of Google Earth enabled developers to create applications using Google Earth. One of my favorite scientific applications is one that helps you visualize eclipses when the Moon and Earth dance with the Sun. Google produced a cool demonstration of the plugin with Monster Milktruck. But, my favorite is a game which lets you play like you are doing a lunar landing of the NASA Apollo 11 Eagle on Tranquility Base – complete with sound (see video).
One of the most important uses of Google Earth has been to help raise awareness of issues facing humanity and the Earth’s environment. Google formed Google Earth Outreach with a team of top Google engineers to help organizations use Google Earth to create tools and visualizations to highlight issues such as environmentally destructive coal mining, effects of massive deforestation, dangers and conditions of coral reefs, and human genocide. In 2009 Google introduced the Google Earth Ocean layers to help raise awareness and explore the Ocean and highlight issues like overfishing, climate change, and pollution.
Google Earth has been a fantastic tool used throughout the world for a multitude of purposes. It has been used in schools countless times to help teachers educate the minds of the young about the Earth. And Google Earth is the best way to explore and learn about places you may never reach otherwise, or to help you plan your own travels to those places. Google Earth has been one of the most popular applications on Earth. We hope Google will continue to develop and further advance this fantastic tool for everyone.