Wow. This almost makes me want to become a geography teacher. I learned about Nasa’s World Wind from Jeff Moore of One Big Head. I thought it sounded interesting, so I downloaded it and checked it out. I’m not kidding when I say it’s probably the most interesting piece of software I’ve tinkered around with in a LONG time. Absolutely fascinating stuff.
Basically, it’s an interface for checking out the satellite images that NASA has taken over the last few decades. But the interface is fantastic and the way they’ve pieced it all together is brilliant. You can start out with a high resolution image of the globe and then using your mouse you can navigate around the earth. Spin your mouse wheel in one direction (or hit the Home key if you don’t have a mouse wheel) and you start zooming in. How far can you zoom in? Well, depending on where you live, you might be able to find your house.
The most in depth photos are being supplied by the United States Geological Survey, so they’re only available for urban areas in the US like New York, Chicago, or Washington. A complete list can be found here. If your city is on the list, then you can zoom in close enough to see cars.
Even without being able to zoom in that far, it’s incredible to fly around the globe zooming in and checking out different land masses. Truly a geographers dream. I remember as a child I used to sit with a globe on my lap and look up different places. I’d slowly rotate the globe and see what sizes countries were in relation to each other, how far apart they were, and imagine what things were like there. This allows you to do those things and so much more. You can follow rivers, zooming in and out as you find interesting landmarks. You can see just how far out Hawaii really is in relation to the rest of the country. It’s simply amazing.
They also have all sorts of other features packed in. They took satellite snapshots of events over the last several years and will layer them over the map if you’d like. From duststorms in Jordan to fires in Manitoba Canada, they have high resolution photos of what it looked like from the satellite. For some of these events, they have several snapshots archived that you can have played in slow motion animation. I have wasted more time using this program in recent days than I care to admit!
Right now it’s only available for Windows, but it’s Open Source so they’re encouraging people to port it to Linux and Macintosh OS X. Make sure you have a great connection to the internet before you start playing with it because it does a lot of downloading to get all these images. Trust me, find a Windows machine and download this software. It is truly engrossing.
Combine this with Flickr and you have an amazing lesson just waiting to happen. What a great tool.