Forum Friday – A Competitor for Google Earth?

Dec 15, 2006 by

When I originally created this site more than a year and a half ago I wanted it to be a place where educators from all walks of life could share, discover, and collaborate. While that has happened to some extent, I’ve definitely been derelict in my duties of trying to promote a healthy and vibrant community. Namely, giving the members the spotlight and not me. Granted, blogs are by nature a slightly narcissistic endeavor due to their design, but since the forum holds much more information, thought provoking discussion, and resources than I could hope to amass by myself, I thought I’d turn Fridays into a showcase of sorts for the resources, ideas, and thoughts that members of the site have contributed. That, and in this day and age when more people are simply reading the RSS feeds and not actually visiting the actual blog as much, there are many people missing out on the wonderful resources posted to the forum here on the site.

For the first Forum Friday I thought I’d highlight a post from falconphysics aka Steve, a high school science teacher near Detroit, MI, who posts some very compelling reasons to take a look at NASA’s World Wind. World Wind isn’t necessarily competing with Google Earth, but rather providing an alternative 3D globe that focuses on science, weather, historical, and geological data. If you enjoy what Steve has to say, visit his profile on the forum and see what else he’s written about or visit his blog, Teaching with Technology.

Steve’s Original Post:

I was going through some of Ben’s old blog posts today when I saw his refernce to Google Earth. Another free program in the same vein is NASA’s World Wind. Like Google Earth it makes use of the massive amount of satellite data out there to allow you to image the eath in 3D, but also allows for a lot of other good data to be mapped as well (note, it’s been a while since I’ve looked at Google Earth, so some of this may be there as well).

There is a variety of extra data that comes when you download the program and other data that can easily be added in. There is a massive number of addons available from the World Wind Wiki. People have created plugins to do such things as map near realtime earthquakes, historical earthquakes, and volcanoes. These make it easy to see the plate boundaries.

Like Google Earth you need an internet connection as new data is constantly being downloaded, unlike Google Earth you can actually download huge chunks of data and keep it in the cache which will definately speed things up.

One thing I have noticed is that a video card makes things work much better if you’re planning on tilting the world to image topography in 3D. I’ve noticed that some computer running with the Intel Extreme Graphics (on the motherboard) have issues when tilting (they don’t in Google Earth).

Overall, Wold Wind is a great program. It allows for some more GIS type use than Google Earth does. Currently it is only available for Windows, but it is open source and there are peope working on OSX/Linux ports for it.

One last thing I almost forgot. The newest version of World Wind also includes the Moon. Now you can image the Moon in 3D too.

It’s really nice to get other perspectives on mainstream tools, or tools that may seem to mimic more popular tools. World Wind is a much more productive and resourceful tool for science educators than is Google Earth. Yes, Google Earth has some great overlays and maps you can download, but World Wind was designed with science in mind and comes with much of the data mentioned already built in. It would even make a great lesson in information literacy; putting the two tools side by side and letting the students determine which provides the information they need more for a given assignment or activity. Thanks for the great resource Steve!

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1 Comment

  1. Angie

    I think that it is great that you now have something similar from google earth I have a different option to choose from because Ireally am tiered of using google for every thing.

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