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Google Earth for fun and profitable research

February 12th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Google Earth continues to add new features and to be used in interesting ways. Originally based on satellite photos by a company called Keyhole, the scope and usefulness of it has grown as Google has added new data from a variety of sources. Version 5.0 was recently released, and adds high quality imagery of the ocean floor and Mars, with data from NASA (including photography from the latest Mars rover project) and other government agencies (review).

Another relatively recent addition is a three-dimensional map layer of ancient Rome built in collaboration with the Rome Reborn team at the University of Virginia, with models of the city and buildings (including some interiors) in their ancient context as of 320 AD. I can see the potential of this even as my office computer struggles gamely to cope with the relatively high processor and graphics requirements–the moving 3D modeling is pretty rough on my poor under-appreciated Dell, but the static images work quite well. And you can see Google’s promotional video to give you a taste of what the glorious full version looks like.

I was also delighted to find a description of a game for archaeologists on the Ancient World Bloggers Group site. Given an image from Google Earth, the game is to identify the site. The first to correctly identify it gets to host the next round of the game. I’m sure Google didn’t have this in mind when they designed the product, but part of what’s most delightful about the web is the unintended uses people find for it.

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