Okay, enough with the politics for a while. I’ve got something cooler. It’s free software from NASA, and it’s called World Wind.
By now, I expect most of you know about Google Earth. It’s a sort of World Wide Earth browser that lets you see the surface of the Earth from satellite imagery and turn it all around and zoom in close enough and clearly enough that, depending on where you live, you may be able to pick out your own house and tell whether you (or at least your cars) were at home when the photo was taken. In fact, here is a picture of my house, taken from Google Earth.
You can’t quite see how cracked the driveway is, but I can tell it was taken before we rebuilt the deck, so it must be a few years old. (That faint fuzzy patch to the right of the deck that looks like a giant grey dandelion puff is actually a pretty good sized pin-oak tree.) If they get a little better with it, we could use it to inspect our roofs and chimneys! My office window is high on the end of the house overlooking the deck. You can’t quite see me hard at work.
World Wind from NASA is similar, but different. You can rotate and zoom in, and add all sorts of fancy overlays—but you can do it not just with Earth, but with the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Also the stars. (And someone added a plug-in for the Death Star.) The resolution of Earth isn’t as fine, but I like it better for the planets, anyway. For Mars and Venus, it’ll show you where all the spacecraft have landed. (I was amazed how many there were.) Here are two pix of Mars. You won’t see it here, but if you mouse over the icons, it’ll tell you the spacecraft names and dates. It also has a bunch of scientific overlays if you’re interested.
The software is Windows only, I’m afraid. And although I found the installation easy, I had to reinstall something called .NET framework from Microsoft before it worked. But the instructions are pretty clear if you speak even pidgeon-geek. Give it a try!*
*But if it breaks your machine (heh-heh), you didn’t hear about it from me!