My Google Map Blog

Tag: Site News

Pictures from the ISS: Photos by Thomas Pesquet in Google Earth

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.28, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

We recently came across a site called “Thomas Pesquet in Google Earth”. It features a KML file that includes over 620 photographs of Earth form the International Space Station (ISS) by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet that were shared through social media. The site and KML were created by Jean-Daniel Cesaro who has painstakingly geolocated them and put them in placemarks in Google Earth.

The photos range from relatively close up shots to sweeping vistas and night time photos. The site is in French, but the KML file is easy to find, so head on over there and download it.


Houston Texas.


The Soyuz Capsule seen over Southern Africa.


Aurora over North America.

To explore the inside of the ISS, see the recently released Street View.

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Seconds from launch? A prepped rocket on the launchpad

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.27, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Yesterday we showed you a video created by satellite imaging company Planet of the launch of their most recent flock of Doves using a series of images they had captured from orbit. As we mentioned in that post, it was almost certainly a first for satellite imaging. After writing that post we were having a look around various Spaceports (also known as Cosmodromes) and came across this sight:


Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 4th, 2010

We can see a rocket on the launch pad with vapour streaming off it as if it has just been fuelled and the support structure (known as a strongback) is tilted back as if it is about to launch. However, after some research we discovered that it is, in fact, a test firing and not the actual launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The actual launch took place four days later on December 8th, 2010.

For more SpaceX related sights in Google Earth see this post.

Wikipedia lists the world’s Spaceports on this page but does not give coordinates. Those are provided as part of a longer list of rocket launch sites. We put the information into a KML file for you to view in Google Earth.

Of special note is Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, which is still under contruction:

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Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia, under construction. 2007 vs 2016.

Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center features this rocket on display:

Unfortunately, some of the locations we were interested in do not have recent imagery. For example, the European Space Agency (ESA) launches from the Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana in South America. The most recent image of the key launchpads is from 2001. Also, SpaceX is building a private spaceport near Brownsville, Texas, but the imagery is from January 2016 before serious construction started.

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Satellite launch in satellite imagery

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.26, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

A couple of weeks ago, satellite imaging company Planet launched a flock of 48 ‘Doves’, their low cost imaging satellites. They managed to capture imagery of the launch from one of the Doves already in orbit:

Read more about it on the Planet blog.

As far as we know, this is a satellite imaging first. The key to the achievement was already having a large number of satellites in orbit which enabled them to task a suitable satellite to capture the launch. Even so, they had to tilt it in order to get the shots.

Google Earth features many planes in flight in its imagery. Simply look through historical imagery near any busy airport and you will likely find several. So why is it so hard to capture satellite launches? Put simply, because they are so rare and very fast (the above YouTube video is just 11 seconds long). The chances of a satellite being overhead and capturing an image at just the right time are close to zero unless it is planned in advance as was the case with the Dove satellite.

If you are interested in launch statistics, the website Spaceflight Now has a launch schedule which shows planned launches and we found Gunter’s Space Page which summarizes and categorizes launches. It is possible that there are also classified launches not listed on the above sites.

Satellite launches are unlikely to ever be captured in aerial imagery as aircraft will be excluded from the launch area during launches for safety reasons. Video of launches captured by drones is becoming quite common, but this is not the sort of imagery that is suitable for Google Earth.

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Google Earth Imagery Update: Volcanic Island in Alaska and Fire in Russia

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.25, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Google has recently added some fresh imagery to Google Earth. It is currently only visible in the default layer, so there will be more to see once Google updates the ‘historical imagery’ layer as well.

Volcanic Island in Alaska
Bogoslof Volcano, located in the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, erupted in late May. When it was first reported we had a look in Google Earth and there was no imagery at all of the Island. Google has now added a DigitalGlobe image captured in early May before the eruption.


Bogoslof Island, May 11th, 2017.

If we are lucky, we will see images of the eruption once Google updates ‘historical imagery’. DigitalGlobe did capture imagery during and after the eruption and you can see them here. The eruption altered the island quite significantly. According to Wikipedia, Bogoslof Island first appeared in 1796, and changes over time with each eruption and subsequent erosion.

Interestingly, we can see some animals on the beaches, which are probably seals or sea lions (Wikipedia lists both as breeding on the island). They can be seen in all the DigitalGlobe imagery and didn’t even leave during the eruption.


Animals on the beaches of Bogoslof Island, probably seals or sea lions.

Fires in Russia
In late May, there were several fires in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region in Russia, destroying 80 houses. Google has added some imagery relating to the event, but unfortunately it only covers one of the fires. We were able to find a burnt out building at a timber processing facility where one of the fires is believed to have started. It would appear this particular fire did not spread to the nearby town.


Burnt building at timber facility near Gorodishche, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.

Another fire destroyed 30 houses in Strelka, which is just south of the new imagery. You can see an aerial photo of the damage in Strelka here.

To find the locations above in Google Earth, download this KML file.

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Colorising Black and White Historical Aerial Imagery

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.24, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

We were recently contacted by Zachary Bortolot an Associate Professor in the Geographic Science Program at James Madison University. He has been developing a method of realistically colorising black and white historical aerial images. His method is automated and intelligently transfers colour from recent colour imagery of a location to historical black and white imagery of the same location. His algorithm appears to be able to handle changing landscapes although exact details as to how it does it are not given. Read more about it on his website.

You can also download some sample image overlays to view in Google Earth. Below are just small samples of the images, comparing them with Google Earth imagery. Be sure to download the overlays to explore all the imagery.

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Colorized aerial image, Palm Springs, California, 1972 vs Google Earth image.

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Colorized aerial image, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1974 vs Google Earth image.

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Colorized aerial image, Washington, D.C., 1951 vs Google Earth image.

In the case of Washington D.C. Google Earth has an aerial image from 1949 but the colorized image is better quality.

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Colorized aerial image, Washington, D.C., 1951 vs Google Earth historical imagery 1949.

Most countries around the world have large collections of aerial imagery gathered over the years, much of which have never been digitised. It would be great to see more of this imagery in Google Earth and even better if it is colourised.

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Google Street View goes to the International Space Station

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.21, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Yesterday Google announced on its blog that they have added views of the International Space Station (ISS) to Google Street View. The Google blog post is written by Thomas Pesquet, Astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA), who spent six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as a flight engineer. The ISS Street View is not currently available in Google Earth, so explore it here.

The ISS is in orbit around the earth and so does not have a specific location so Google has decided to place the Street View in Building 9 – Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The building houses mockups of every major pressurized module on the International Space Station. It is also not far from the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center. The Mission Control Center is the building from which flight controllers command, monitor, and plan operations for the ISS.

Interestingly, one of the mockup modules has a user contributed photosphere and we couldn’t identify the equivalent module in the new Street View. If any of our readers can tell us which it is, let us know in the comments.

The Google Blog post incorrectly states that this is the first time Street View imagery has been captured beyond planet Earth. In fact, both the Moon and Mars have had Street View for quite some time.

Another interesting comment is that this is the first time that Street View has included annotations. This is such a new feature that it is not yet working on Google’s dedicated Street View site, only in Google Maps. Let’s hope the feature comes to Google Earth too – including the ability to annotate using KML.


Annotations in Street View is a new feature.

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Man made ‘Fairy Circles’

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.20, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

‘Fairy Circles’ are a phenomena that occurs in the Namib Desert involving circular patches of bare ground forming striking patterns visible in satellite imagery. We have looked at a number of similar phenomenon around the world caused variously by ants, termites and worms. Last month, we had a look at some Fairy Circle-like patterns in the Northern Cape, South Africa, and on reading the post, my sister Clare, alerted us to similar patterns found in northern Zambia.


Fairy Circle-like patterns in northern Zambia.

Closer inspection reveals the clearings are for cultivation:

The reason for the interesting pattern is the method of agriculture being employed in the region. It is locally known as the Chitemene System. The soils of the region are nutrient-poor. Trees are coppiced and the branches brought to a central point and burnt. The ash is then spread over the field, which fertilises the soil, allowing crops to be grown for several years. The pattern is caused by the need for a larger area than the cultivated field to supply the necessary vegetation. Fields are moved after a number of years. In the above image we can see fields of various ages.


In this image we can actually see the burnt areas in the centres of some fields.

Commercial farmers can afford to buy fertiliser so are less restricted. We believe the spottiness in the field below is due to termite activity.

We also came across a vast region that had recently experienced bush fires. We can see what appear to be termite mounds and the path of the fire appears to flow like water across the landscape:

It would appear that in some places, fields have been made around termite mounds. This presumably means the termites make the soil a bit more fertile. Strangely, this seems to be the opposite of what we see in large commercial fields that tend to have bare patches where termite mounds used to be.

For the locations featured above, download this KML file.

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Game of Thrones in Street View and Google Earth

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.19, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

In celebration of the season seven premiere of popular TV series “Game of Thrones”, Google has created a Street View collection of various locations used in the filming of the series.

Although we highly recommend using Google Maps to explore Street View as the Google Maps Street View interface is better than Google Earth’s, it is also worth visiting the locations in Google Earth as it provides a better perspective of the relative locations, as well as featuring 3D imagery in some of the locations. Some locations have the old type of 3D model and some have the new 3D mesh.


Water Gardens of Dorne (Real Alcázar in Seville, Spain)


The Long Bridge of Volantis (A bridge in Córdoba, Spain)

To find the locations in Google Earth, download this KML file.

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Homeowner mows ‘A-hole’ message on lawn over a dispute with neighbour

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.18, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

A recent story in the news about a homeowner in Dungeness, Washington, USA who, as a result of a dispute with a neighbour wrote a giant message saying ‘A hole’ and an arrow pointing at his neighbour.

Find the location in Google Earth with this KML file.

The above image is from August 2016, but it is clear from historical imagery that it was created some time between 2011 and 2013 and maintained since then.

Quite often large messages seen in Google Earth imagery are intended to be seen from the ground or from passing aircraft. Writing messages specifically for Google Earth can be tricky as you never know when your area will next be photographed. If your message is not designed to last, it may never be captured. Here in Cape Town, Google Earth gets multiple images per month, but the imagery is from satellites and relatively low resolution so the writing must be much bigger. In the US, and other regions that get higher resolution aerial imagery, the frequency of updates tends to be much lower – about once every three years for the continental US. Several messages we looked at in 2015 have not yet appeared in Google Earth imagery. This message created by Hyundai was short lived and although the region has been updated since then the message is not visible. Another project consisting of graffiti on a disused runway is probably longer lasting but the region has not yet been updated. We also heard from one of our readers that he has been regularly mowing a message to his daughter in the hopes that it will one day be captured in Google Earth imagery. We keep an eye on the location, but it hasn’t been updated since 2013.

For some other rude messages in Google Earth see this post on phallic symbols.

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Planet Launches 48 More Satellites

by Timothy Whitehead on Jul.17, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

On July 14, 2017, satellite imaging company Planet launched another 48 of their small, low resolution, satellites they call ‘Doves’ into orbit. They were launched on a Soyuz rocket together with a number of other satellites. This follows a record launch of 88 Doves back in February. In addition, earlier this year they acquired Google’s Terra Bella and Rapid Eye in 2015. If our count is correct they now have 192 Doves, 5 Rapid Eye satellites and 7 SkySat satellites for a total of 204.

Planet’s large fleet means they have very good coverage, being able to image most parts of the world multiple times per day. However, the small size of the satellites means the resolutions they offer are not as good as some of the other players in the imaging business. See this post for a summary of satellite resolutions. Also keep in mind that Google Earth features aerial imagery in some locations, which is higher resolution than any satellite can provide.

The Terra Bella sale announcement states that Google will purchase imagery from Planet in a multiyear contract. Whether we will see any Planet imagery in Google Earth, however, remains to be seen. It would certainly be nice to see the global mosaic used when zoomed out updated to a higher resolution and clearer image (less cloud and ice cover).

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