Navigating our world hasn’t been the same since the launch of Google Earth. Available in desktop and browser versions, the app has become more than just an interactive map. It’s evolved into a 4D spatial search engine that brings people together and fills their lives with wonder.
Google has been steadily improving and renovating the Earth service since its launch in 2001. Today, it’s almost hard to remember how anyone ever left the house without it. Here are a few of the most powerful and practical new things you can do with Google Earth.
Find out how a place has evolved over time
Google Earth’s satellite and aerial views let you take virtual trips around nearly any location on earth from many different angles. Over time, they’ve accumulated a lot of historical data from a lot of angles.
In recent years, the app has added a feature that lets you check out how a place has evolved over the decades. You can find this Time Travel tool in Google Earth’s desktop version.
Open the Google Earth app on your computer, and zoom into a location you’d like to view. In the toolbar above the main map window, look for a clock icon with a blue arrow pointing counterclockwise.
Click on the clock icon to display a slider labeled by year and month. Move that slider to the various available dates to see how that location looked in the satellite and aerial photos from that year.
Time travel in Street View mode
Besides the nearly 40 years of satellite and aircraft data it has access to, Google’s fleet of Street View cars have been taking pictures of city streets since 2007.
To time travel in Street View mode, go to your favorite location, and look for the little yellow human icon on the right.
Click on this “pegman” icon, and you’ll see the Earth areas with available street views highlighted in blue.
Drag the pegman to any blue highlighted area in the main map window to show that location in Street View.
Find the clock icon in the top toolbar again, and use the slider to see the photos that Google’s Street View cars have taken over the past years.
Watch an aerial time-lapse sequence
You can use Google Earth’s historical data to make an automatic aerial time lapse of any location on earth and then sit back and watch how it has developed over a given period. This tool lets you look at how cities have grown and natural features have changed throughout the decades since people started collecting data. You can even see time lapses in 3D from specific popular locations where lots of data is available.
Open Google Earth in your web browser, and find the location you want to see.
Click on the Voyager icon in the toolbar on the left. It looks like an old-timey steering wheel from the helm of a ship.
In the Voyager menu, click on the Layers tab at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down, and click on the Timelapse in the Google Earth layer.
The app will start loading data to run a time-lapse, which can take a few seconds. You’ll see the Timelapse menu open up on the right. You can use it to pause the time-lapse, set a specific range of dates, or choose a different location to view. You can also click on the 3D button at the bottom right of the main map window to change your view of the time-lapse.
Create and share your own Google Earth stories
The web version of Google Earth recently added the ability to create stories and share them with your friends.
In your browser, open Google Earth, and make sure you’re signed in to your Google account.
Click the Projects icon from the toolbar on the left. It looks like a location pin over a square.
In the Project panel window that appears, click on Create, and select Create project in Google Drive from the dropdown menu.
To add a location to your story, navigate the map or search for a place by clicking New feature in the Project panel window and then Search to add place.
Once you’re at the right place, click Add to project in the popup window or use the Add placemark tool at the bottom left of the map window, which looks like a location pin.
The places you add will appear in the lower half of the Project panel window. To edit their content, hover your mouse over a place and click the pencil icon. That will open a Property editor panel for that place where you can change your story’s default view of it or add customized photos, videos, and text.
If you want to check your work, click Preview presentation at the top of the Project panel window.
Google autosaves your work as you go. When you’re ready to share a story, click the Share button at the top of the Project panel window. It looks like an icon of a person next to a plus sign.
Use Google Earth to explore the globe like you’ve never seen it before
Google Earth is like a Swiss Army knife of exploration and discovery. It hasn’t added many new features recently, but the time-lapse and story creation tools it did add have given us new ways to look at the world like we’ve never seen it before.