Now is always a good time to travel

22Mar06

115.99899W_64.56712N.png NASA World Wind is a virtual globe program, akin to Google Earth. But it has different aims, it uses different image and data sets, it’s open source, and it’s paid for purely by American tax dollars. Really, it means that remarkable imagery and data that countless millions (billions?) of tax dollars have paid for are now available in beautiful, immediately accessible form on a little computer desktop. By default, World Wind uses the breathtaking Blue Marble Next Generation imagery.

(click the thumbnails to see a big view — but keep in mind that static screenshots can’t do justice to a 3D globe you can twist and turn, soar across and into.)

What a way to see the world. So download it. Be in awe, a little bit of the state of technology that let’s us do it, that lets a kid with a computer see the whole world in so many new ways, and, of course, be in awe of our keen blue planet.

Then explore.

Kenai Penninsula
Part of Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, showing the Aialik Peninsula, Bear Glacier, and Calisto Head.

Cosley Lake, Glacier National Park, Alaska topographic map
A 3D view of Cosley and Glenn Lakes, Glacier National Park, Montana overlaid with a USGS topographic map layer.

Comparo

Just to be clear, neither Google Earth nor NASA’s World Wind could really be called “better.” They have different aims.

Google Earth is more useful for lots of day to day activities, with routing, deeper imagery of more places (they can afford to pay for it), and naturally lots of information to search on (although the results can be messy beccause much is just pulled from the hodgepodge of the web).

But World Wind is a great complement, offering scientific visualization (see animated storm systems moving across the planet, view ozone layer depletion over time, etc.), deep and clean placename information (you can find even obscure natural features, like a tiny lake or stream from your last backpacking trip, without the sometimes maddening irrelevancy of Google Earth’s results), and other unique, useful data (for example, it rocks with complete USGS topo maps).

Also, its standard Blue Marble imagery, against a minimalist interface, arguably looks much better than Google Earth. Zooming in, Google Earth has far more imagery, so things are clear where World Wind just shows a blur, but it’s actually the federal government’s app that makes the best first visual impression.

Finally, World Wind is open source, so if there’s something totally new you want to do with it, you could conceivably do it yourself.

Yes; the world out there is wide open for us.

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