Google Earth is a computer program that renders a 3D representation of Earth based on satellite imagery. The program maps the Earth by superimposing satellite images, aerial photography, and GIS data onto a 3D globe, allowing users to see cities and landscapes from various angles. Users can explore the globe by entering addresses and coordinates, or by using a keyboard or mouse. The program can also be downloaded on a smartphone or tablet, using a touch screen or stylus to navigate. Users may use the program to add their own data using Keyhole Markup Language and upload them through various sources, such as forums or blogs. Google Earth is able to show various kinds of images overlaid on the surface of the earth and is also a Web Map Service client.
In addition to Earth navigation, Google Earth provides a series of other tools through the desktop application. Additional globes for the Moon and Mars are available, as well as a tool for viewing the night sky. A flight simulator game is also included. Other features allow users to view photos from various places uploaded to Panoramio, information provided by Wikipedia on some locations, and Street View imagery. The web-based version of Google Earth also includes Voyager, a feature that periodically adds in-program tours, often presented by scientists and documentarians.
Google Earth has been viewed by some as a threat to privacy and national security, leading to the program being banned in multiple countries. Some countries have requested that certain areas be obscured in Google’s satellite images, usually areas containing military facilities.
Google Earth was originally developed by Keyhole, Inc., a Mountain View-based company founded in 2001. Keyhole, after being spun off from Intrinsic Graphics, received funding from the Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in addition to smaller capital from Nvidia and Sony. Keyhole developed the program under the name Keyhole EarthViewer, and sold the product for uses in fields such as real estate, urban planning, defense, and intelligence. Google acquired the company in 2004, driving public interest in geospatial technologies and applications. Since then, Google has given the program a focus on exploration, with tours provided by humanitarian outreach programs, 3D modeling of hundreds of cities, and 3D globes of other planets.
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