World Wind

If you've seen Google Earth in action, you have no doubt been impressed by what it offers; you can get a view of pretty much anywhere you like on the planet, using satellite imagery that Google has bought, with a very slick user interface. Although Google Earth is pretty nifty, I have never installed it myself. This was partly because of the license and partly because it wasn't easy to tinker about with it under the bonnet and I like to be able to do that. I haven't lost out though, because several months ago I found an Open Source alternative made by some nice folks at NASA. The program is called World Wind and it seems to be coming along quite nicely.

NASA World Wind
View of the Earth using Blue Marble maps and cloud data. CREDIT: Stuart/NASA World Wind
World Wind is created by scientists, so it has been given the capability to display all kinds of mapping data rather than just the standard satellite images. You can display the Blue Marble images, LandSat data, up-to-date cloud coverage, sea temperatures, information about floods, volcanic activity and a growing number of other data sets as people add to it. The inclusion of elevation data helps to give fairly recognisable views of your favourite mountain ranges when you zoom and tilt the view. Another cool feature in the latest version (which is reminiscent of Celestia) is the ability to swap the Earth for the Moon, Mars, Venus and even Jupiter. The Mars globe has height information - using the fantastic Mola data - so you can do neat things such as get a view down Valles Marineris or of Olympus Mons (although Rob has been doing some great Mars renderings too using Terragen). World Wind is now my favourite planet viewer.

Despite the groovy features, there are a few downsides to World Wind. Firstly, it is currently limited to Microsoft Windows 2000 and above. Hopefully somebody will help port the software to Linux and OSX to allow everyone to enjoy it. Secondly, the initial download is pretty huge, so you will need to have broadband. If neither of these is an issue for you, World Wind is a great bit of software that you could spend hours exploring with.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 03rd May 2006 (00:57 UTC) | Permalink
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