World Wind

By Deane Barker on February 28, 2005

NASA World Wind: I’ve been playing with this for a few weeks, and it’s as close to the James Bond-ish utopia I always hoped computers would become.

World Wind lets you zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth. Leveraging Landsat satellite imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, World Wind lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D, just as if you were really there.

They’re not kidding — you start with the Earth at a distance, and you can zoom, click, and tilt your way to about anything. As you get closer, boundaries appear and cities are high-lighted (many of which are hyperlinked to Wikipedia — how cool is that?).

For instance, with a few clicks and a drag of the mouse, I can zoom in on Sioux Falls. Resolution gets to be a problem as you get closer, but if you click the Landsat 7 button, World Wind will fill in the area for which it has images.

Larger metropolitan areas are good — you can zoom right into a good image of the Golden Gate, complete with a boat that was sailing under it at the time. I’m surprised that the resolution for New York City wasn’t better. You can see the docks, Ellis and Liberty Islands, but not much else.

World Wind is essentially one of the coolest atlases ever. My 10-year-old and I spent about 30 minutes just clicking around. For instance, you can tilt down to a perspective of about 100 miles in the air, and we took an imaginary boat north from New Zealand just to see where we’d end up. (New Calendonia, it turns out.)

It’s a massive download — something on the order of 200MB. It’s CPU-intensive too. When I zoom in far enough for it to start download Landsat images, my CPU cranks way, way up.

Still, an incredibly cool and free app.



  1. Can you actually see icons like you say, because I downloaded it and even when i zoom right into to 100 metres .. it wont go any closer.. all it is is the names of places…. i admit its pretty impressive that it has small suburban areas around my house.. but id like to actually be able to zoom in on sydney opera house and see a satelite image of the damn area… zooming in on a yellow word just doesnt do it for me

  2. As a map-geek – this is cool (sounding)

    As a mac owner and linux user, I give it large raspberries for being VoldeSoft only.

  3. Just a note ww is open source so if anyone wants to port it to linux or mac they can, the developers currently working on the project do not have enough time/experience to do this.

  4. the only problem w/ this is that you can’t buy cds or dvds that have the whole world on them

  5. Check out Earthview from Desksoft ( – awesome wallpaper and screensaver utilty, lets you see earth as globe or map from different angles, day/night views, with/without city lights, show times in selected cities, clouds, etc etc etc. Basic version is free with lower resolution on one map; paid version has four maps downloadable in various resolutions, highest will take up 100 MB on your hard drive, and allows for unlimited downloads of basic cloud data (updated every six hours); $5 pm gets you subscription to download 1 MB at a time of full cloud data, also updated several times a day. Prepare to spend hours playing with this if you download it, it’s that good.

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