Google's fifth update to its popular Google Earth software offers something for virtual tourists, planetary exploration enthusiasts and amateur oceanographers. Fans of seeing your favorite places from overhead-not to mention your favorite artwork-those high-resolution images are still there for your procrastinating pleasure.
Available for free download from Google's Web site, Google Earth 5.0 can plunge viewers as far down as the Mariana Trench, the deepest location in the seven seas; it can also let you roll back the years, showing what areas such as Silicon Valley looked like five or even 50 years ago (a more disturbing aspect of this allows you to watch glaciers shrink); and it provides a three-dimensional view of the Martian surface.
Previous versions of Google Earth included an ocean that was virtually a monochromic blue, with only slight shadings to convey depth.
"We on the Google Earth team had been working hard to build a rich 3-D map of the world, but we had largely ignored the oceans-two-thirds of the planet," John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, wrote on the Official Google Blog.
The intricate, high-resolution imagery is made possible thanks to Google's enormous servers, the same that allow endless needle-in-a-haystack searches, and the long-fabled Gdrive, which deliver data to the user on a map-by-map basis.
In addition to the 3-D renderings of the undersea floor (and a few of its more famous shipwrecks), the new Google Earth provides numerous overlays, including maps of the ocean's phytoplankton. The Mars map annotates significant spots, such as probe landing sites, and high-resolution images where available.
And all that's interesting to look at, but those who spend the majority of their time on terra firma will probably be more interested in the feature that allows you to upload walking or biking tracks from GPS devices, should you want to show everyone a new route.