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New Google Earth Applications Tackle Earth, Space, and Time

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Mar 19, 2009 8:30PM

The Sears Tower on December 30, 2002. As pictured in Google Earth 5.0.
Google recently announced new capabilities for Google Earth that will change the way you look at Chicago. Michael T. Jones, chief technology advocate for Google, was in town this week so we sat down with him to check out some of the new tricks they created, and what Chicagoans can look for now. Besides roving the land, you can now also cruise water, space, and even time.

We found the most interesting new application to be the Historical Imagery Feature. Google is compiling decades of maps and photos and patching them together, so now you can compare pictures of the same spot to see how an area has changed from one year to the next. Since they're relying on data they obtain from business, governments, map collectors and historical organizations, some of the data is patchy and some locales only go back a few years (or only as long as Google has been taking the pictures). But in other areas, there are photographs from as far back as the 1940s. We took a look at a few things in our city that have changed pretty drastically in recent years to see what changes we could find. Check out the pictures of Meigs Field (below) that show it go from airport to destruction to park, and flash back to Millennium Park as it was in 2000 - basically nothing - compared to the present day downtown oasis. You can also follow pictures of the Trump Tower while it has been built (if our earlier look wasn't enough), and there are a few suburbs that just ten years ago were nothing but fields.

The new water application, "Ocean View," allows the user to dive underwater in certain parts of the ocean. In addition to this, there are markers located across the oceans and the Great Lakes to indicate points of interest such as shipwrecks and video of dives from Discovery and National Geographic. With "Google Mars," you can wander across Mars like Dr. Manhattan, and, by turning on the historical images, you can compare current NASA data to a crude globe from 1877. And the Sky mode allows you to cruise through the galaxies, from constellation to constellation.

Google is currently working on expanding the 3-D viewing of buildings and bridges, and they are running a competition to expand those options, too. It's called the "Google 2009 Student Bridge Modeling Competition," challenging contestants to create a 3-D model of any bridge, rural or urban, using their SketchUp program. The only bridge in the Chicago area that can't be recreated is the Skyway, but all others are ripe for the picking. It kicked-off this past Monday but runs until June 15, so get working on those entries.