Google Earth 5 Gives 3D View of Ocean and Mars

February 3, 2009

(ChattahBox) — Google Earth has released an updated 3-D mapping service that lets users explore the ocean as if they were fishes in the sea, swimming past submerged volcanoes, through undersea canyons as deep as the Mariana Trench and encounter creatures like a critically endangered, prehistoric fish called the coelacanth. Rather have an out of world experience, then step on Mars and get a birds eye view of the red planet.

The enhanced Google Earth 5 (still in beta), available for download at earth.google.com, offers everything from photographs and videos of sea life to models of shipwrecks to water temperature data collected from buoys. With Google Earth  you can explore thousands of data points including videos and images of ocean life, details on the best surf spots, logs of real ocean expeditions, and much more. With this new feature, you can now move back and forth in time while exploring a place to reveal imagery from years and even decades past, revealing changes over time. Dozens of partners – including the National Geographic Society, the BBC, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Oceanographic Institution – contributed information to the project, which is aimed at fostering learning, promoting conservation and, no doubt, increasing Google’s popularity.

By plunging underwater, Google is adding a new dimension to Google Earth, which previously showcased only the terrestrial world. Premiered four years ago, it was probably best known as a tool for users to get a bird’s-eye view of their homes, or inspect real estate. The omission of the liquid two-thirds of the planet prompted Sylvia Earle, the former chief scientist at NOAA and noted oceanographer, to quip once that Google Earth should be renamed “Google dirt.” On stage Monday at a Google kickoff event at San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences, she declared the enhanced version a “fantastic new rendition of the earth.”

Ocean in Google Earth, as the water-focused initiative is called, is among the many layers on Google Earth. Users can choose which information to superimpose on the planet by checking boxes next to the layers listed on the screen.

With ocean layer selected, plus terrain, the sea appears as a shimmering sheet of waves. Zooming in allows users to dip beneath the surface and swim through a computer-generated world of undersea hills, plains and mountains.

The view isn’t particularly detailed or colorful. Only by clicking on the various icons scattered across the ocean can a user get more in-depth information and imagery, such as one planted off the Farallon Islands that features a YouTube video of a great white shark attacking a seal.

Google Ocean lists many underwater shipwrecks such as this one of the HMCS Canada, which sank under mysterious circumstances off the Florida Keys in 1926. Shipwreck data provided within Google Ocean may include YouTube videos, images, and historical information. This shipwreck includes a video of a dive exploration of HMCS Canada from  ShipWreckCentral.com.

One disappointing aspect of Google Ocean is that the program doesn’t let you zoom down and then into the water to see shipwrecks. Instead, you have to click the shipwreck icon to explore a wreck via pictures, videos, and written history.

Google Earth 5.0 is compatible with computers that have Windows 2000, XP or Vista, along with relatively recent graphics cards and sufficient memory. Mac users must have a Mac OS X 10.4.0 operating system or later.

In recent months, amid the gloomy economy, Google has been focusing on products that make money while cutting or stopping development on some of those that don’t. Google Earth has no ads, although a souped up version of the service is available via subscription.

Google also unveiled an interactive, 3-D map of Mars that enables visitors to whisk, as if by rocket ship, over Martian mountains that dwarf Everest and scan Martian rocks through the eyes of the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  The new Mars map amasses some 1000 gigabytes of data from a range of Mars probes, including NASA’s Viking orbiters, Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, and six landers, such as NASA’s twin rovers, to create a three-dimensional view of the planet at a wide range of scales.

The 3-D Martian map is the first result of a 3-year-old agreement between Google and NASA’s Ames Research Center to bring the mountains of research on Mars to the public.

Google Earth is one of the Internet search company’s most popular products. The software has been downloaded to half a billion computers.


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