World Wind is a program from NASA that combines satellite imagery and altitude mapping to create what is effectively a 3D model of the entire world.
Just being able to see overhead imagery of every part of the globe is pretty amazing, but when you then lower the viewpoint and the mountains jump out at you in 3D the effect is truly staggering. All of the people I’ve shown this to have agreed that it is jaw-droppingly impressive.
NASA has to make all their data freely available, and this is their way of making it accessible and useful to the general public. The program is open source and the data is free; all that is required is a hefty graphics card and a fast internet connection, as the images and data are downloaded on the fly when you first look at an area.
Places in the US have the added extra of USGS data, also available freely. This includes more detailed imagery of the entire US, topographical maps and super-accurate 1 metre / pixel imagery of many urban areas. This really is awesome… you can see cars on the road and people in parks.
This image shows some of the Swiss Alps, looking south over Interlaken to the north face of the Eiger on the horizon.
Go try it! It’s definitely worth the 170MB initial download (there’s a BitTorrent tracker for it); hell, I’ve just bought a whole new graphics card so I could use it properly. “Free software” indeed…
What amazes me is how they can make software like that but they only manage to build it for Windows :x. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t use it anyway. It’s the same with webcams. My dad gets his jollies from watching a city on the other side of the world through a webcam. I’m just like, I don’t watch traffic out my bedroom window so why would I sit in front of a computer and watch a jittery low quality screening of it? Annoying bit is he shares my connection and leaves me with no bandwidth :x.
I have real mountains where I live so why would I want a simulation of mountains somewhere else? I’d probably only get it if there was a chance some hot chick happened to be sunbathing nude in her backyard when the satellite took the scan :P. Oh darn, it’s only 15m/pixel.
My IT teacher showed me that a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my school’s firewall somewhat restricted many of the program’s cooler features, but I still had a great time with it.
If you think that’s cool, you should also take a look at Celestia. It’s a sort of 3D solar system tour. You can go to each of the planets and see what they’re up to in real time. You can even follow space stations and comets. It’s incredible. And it doesn’t even require a high-speed connection, which I really appreciate.
I had just recently downloaded World Wind and it’s amazing! Our school is getting into it now. The only problem is, when one person goes on, it takes up all the bandwith, and noone else can get on the net. My favorite is using Urban Area and Digital Ortho View. It’s so incredibly detailed!
Oh yes, NASA has the vision. A linux port can’t be far away.
NASA has released World Wind as an open source program to improve its quality through peer review, maximize awareness and impact of NASA research, and increase dissemination of World Wind in support of NASA’s mission: To inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”
Do you think NASA uses fractals to generate the terrain? If so, that is incredibly highly complicated math. If you notice, as you zoom in, the edges of continents and countries seem to be infinitely long. The more you zoom in, the more you realize that even though the continents have finite area, the paremeters are infinite. It’s amazing!