Lunch & Learn: Google Earth & Sky with Bill Guthe and Ben Johnston

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In the few short years since it became freely available, Google Earth has become commonly used to explore the earth’s surface, to navigate geographic paths, to locate points of interest, and to store and serve terabytes of geographic information.
Google Earth is a free Virtual Globe or Geobrowser that allows you to display images of the earth on a globe and provides the illusion of manipulating a three-dimensional globe on-screen.


A programming interface permits anyone to create geographic tours, to view locations from different angles and distances, to store images or overlay historic maps, and even to manipulate light and shading. You can save the final products of this visualization tool for publication on the web, to share your research or just your favorite locales. Google Earth is the preferred choice when a perspective or oblique view of the surface is needed.
With Google Earth version 4.3, you can view see 3D buildings from any angle, including street views faster and in more cities than ever before (including San Francisco, Boston, Orlando, Munich, and Zurich).
Google Maps provides two-dimensional top-down ‘flat’ maps with images, features, and links to places. It has the advantage of being viewable within browsers on any operating system and requires no ‘plug-in’ of additional software. Google Maps are preferred when horizontal distances are more important and when you have users who might be reluctant or unable to load new software.
Google Earth and Maps are used extensively for instruction at Princeton because the products support a variety of media and can be used collaboratively. In their November 12 Lunch ‘n Learn presentation, Bill Guthe and Ben Johnston demonstrated some of these applications.
For example, Princeton faculty and students use Google Earth and maps as a part of their teaching and research. Ben Johnston noted that the use of Google Maps in particular is increasing in the Humanities because it is easy for student in a class to contribute to the map.
In a class last Spring on Venice and the Mediterranean, the class toured sites in Crete first hand and tied their short descriptions and photos to local maps.
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In the Fall, 2007, students in Art 440, Venice in its Golden Age used online interactive maps to explore the art and architecture of Renaissance Venice.
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Johnston explained that books contain a geographical footprint, a list of the place names they reference. A Google book search of the Geographia Americae, for example, brings up a map that illustrates each of the referenced locations. Here is an interesting example produced for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. You can read excerpts from the book simply by clicking on each geographic marker.
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Guthe noted that Google provides a user guide that explains how to navigate, adjust vantage points, move from place to place, and how to zoom in and out. Google also provides Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for both Google Earth and Google Maps. You can explore their KML Interactive Sampler and post your own contributions at GoogleEarthHacks.
Until 2007, Google Earth let you zoom in from outer space to view our planet. With Earth’s new Sky feature (available by pressing the Sky button in the toolbar), you can turn that perspective around and explore the wonders of the heavens. You can use it view a wide variety of astronomical features in their actual location. You can view the motion of planets over time, and you can use the application as a portal to view observatory and Hubble images and to read a wide range of articles about most celestial subjects.
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Bill Guthe is the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Coordinator, in Computational Science and Engineering, Office of Information Technology. He manages university licenses for GIS software, provides training in GIS and remote sensing technologies and gives instruction in graduate-level course. He and his colleagues support Princeton faculty, staff and students in using GIS and remote sensing for research and teaching, incorporate GIS analyses and displays into Web-based interactive tools and develop innovative applications for various academic disciplines.
Ben Johnston is Manager of the Humanities Resources Center and an instructional courseware designer.
A podcast and the presentation are available.

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