From Space to Your Face: How Google Earth works

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google-earth.gifMark Aubin, a software engineer at Google Earth, has written an interesting article on how it was inspired by a photo flipbook, how the whole system has captured people’s imagination, and explaining where the imagery comes from, why some parts of the globe are blurry whilst others are clear, and how often it’s updated:

Most people are surprised to learn that we have more than one source for our imagery. We collect it via airplane and satellite, but also just about any way you can imagine getting a camera above the Earth’s surface: hot air balloons, model airplanes – even kites. The traditional aerial survey involves mounting a special gyroscopic, stabilized camera in the belly of an airplane and flying it at an elevation of between 15,000 feet and 30,000 feet, depending on the resolution of imagery you’re interested in. As the plane takes a predefined route over the desired area, it forms a series of parallel lines with about 40 percent overlap between lines and 60 percent overlap in the direction of flight. This overlap of images is what provides us with enough detail to remove distortions caused by the varying shape of the Earth’s surface.

The next step is processing the imagery. We scan the film using scanners capable of over 1800 DPI (dots per inch) or 14 microns. Then we take the digital imagery through a series of stages such as color balancing and warping to produce the final mosaic for the entire area.

Read the rest here

Andy Merrett