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.