Classroom experiments and activities

Google Earth or how to find a map of your place on line !!!

Google Earth Icon

Check, how you can use Google Earth , a free software which allows you to find a map or a satellite photo of any place on Earth. With Google Earth you can plan an excursion, a pathfinder game, or a trip for vacations...or just browse around Our Planet.

The instruction has been kindly provided by  G. Myrda from

Translated by Malgorzata Czart. 


Google Earth, or how to find a map of your place on-line!

Grzegorz Myrda


What do we use Google Earth for?


Google Earth is a desktop application that works in Windows, Linux, MAC environments. It is used for three-dimensional visualization of the Earth surface. It can be downloaded from for free.


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Fig. Google Earth


It is a great tool to do virtual travels all over the world, since a user does not have to provide any data to the program. Google Earth has its own database of satellite photos that include almost all the corners of the world. The hosted data include also a model of the territory and the data typical of topographic maps. Due to a huge volume of the data and great dynamics of changes they can be used only via Internet - each launching of the application results in an automatic connection to the Google spatial data server.

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Fig. Central Europe in Google Earth


The best proof of the data quality and of easy access to them is the fact that soon after launching the website the governments of some countries asked the Google company to remove from the world map available in Google Earth the view of certain regions. The reason was their security that might have been violated because of the easy access to information about location and exact appearance of strategic elements of national infrastructure, such as military installations or nuclear power stations. Typically, such complexes are protected from inquisitive onlookers by means of plates hanging on a fence that say "taking photos is forbidden" but the "eye" of a camera placed on a satellite, which takes photos of many square kilometres in several seconds with resolution of several centimetres, pays no heed to such bans.

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Fig. Military base in China


Thanks to Google Earth you can soar in the air like Superman and move from one place to another admiring on your way wonderful bird's-eye views. Typically, the locations to have been visited by the Internauts as the first ones are those really famous or, on the contrary, the ones shrouded in mystery. It takes only a few seconds to move from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Finnish Laponia... And all of that is possible with just several clicks of your mouse.


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Fig. The Niagara Falls

 Data in Google Earth

All the power of Google Earth lies in the data that can be viewed with it. The maps in Google Earth are not typical cartographic maps. It is a photographic reflection of the land done with use of a satellite or a plane. On photos you can put subsequent layers of information in the form of vectors. The data is grouped into categories that can be displayed or hidden on the map. Most information on the map is based on data provided by Google company but it is also possible to add our own data and it can be done in such a way that the data will be accessible not only to us but also to other users of Internet.


The basic data supported by Google Earth are satellite or aerial photos coming from various providers of such data. One of the most frequent questions that comes to mind is if it is the live view. Of course it is not. Generally, the photos are less than three years old. They are updated by Google company once in a while. The photos are of various accuracy: from fifteen meters for one pixel on a screen of the monitor to several centimetres for one pixel. It means that one dot on a screen of the monitor represents usually several meters of land but in the case of the most interesting places, e.g. terrains that are densely urbanized, they are accessible in a higher resolution, typically of one meter. However, there are some places where accuracy reaches 16 centimetres and the Google company headquarter is visible in resolution of 2.5 cm. Such a high resolution means that not only can we see cars in the street, but also differentiate between their make.

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Fig. Car-park in front of the Google headquaters


Regions of high resolution

In some regions, e.g.  Poland, there are photos of a higher resolution (of about 1 meter) for majority of big urbanized areas. The rest of the territory can be viewed in a lower resolution of several meters for one pixel.

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Fig. Market square in Cracow

On the satellite photos you can also see additionally "marked" data such as names of geographical objects or locations and names of objects done by humans. You can gain in-depth descriptions of almost every object by clicking on it with your mouse. After clicking on it you will see a pop-up "balloon" with its description.

Data from the National Geographic magazine

Among the data accessible in the list in "Layers" panel to the left of the map you can see a layer "National Geographic Magazine". It contains a list of places that are recommended by the magazine. On the map they are marked with an icon in shape of a yellow rectangular. Many of those places are equipped with additional photos, sounds and other multimedia materials, or even live transmission from Internet cameras installed in the African bush.

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Fig. Data from the National Geographic Magazine w Google Earth


USA cities in 3D.

The majority of big cities in USA have additional data in the form of three-dimensional buildings placed on a city map. Recently, such data has been also made accessible for a part of London. We can expect that more and more cities all over the world will be equipped with such data.

In order to switch on showing of buildings in 3D you should mark a "checkbox" named "Buildings" placed in a control panel below the map. Then, if there is a city equipped with proper data within the map, you will see three-dimensional buildings. Unfortunately, in the case of other towns and cities toggling that option on gives no results.

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Fig. A part of London with 3D buildings


Basic functions

Google Earth allows an intuitive navigation on the map. There is no need to use function buttons, since it is possible to perform all basic operations with use of mouse buttons only. Moving of the map is done by dragging it on the screen with a left mouse button. Scaling the map can be done using a mouse roller or by moving up or down with a right mouse button pressed. Pressing of a roller (middle button) and moving of a mouse at the same time changes an angle of sight. Clicking on an icon that represents an object on the map will display information about the object in a dedicated pop-up. Double clicking on a map point zooms the point in.

To the left there is a list of layers that can be displayed on the map. When you install the application, you will gain access to a default set of layers containing common data. The set can be supplemented on your own with data accessible on any website. In order to do it you should click in your web browser on a link to a file with extension *.kml or *.kmz. Files with such extensions contain additional data that can be loaded into Google Earth. If you want the data to be preserved till the next launching of the application, they should be saved from the list panel on the left side of the map named "My Places".

There are more possibilities than mere navigating in the map. In Google Earth you can search places on the map by entering their names. For example, in order to find Zakopane you should enter "Zakopane, Poland" in a dialog field named "Fly To" that is on the left side of the map. The globe will whirl and the map will be automatically centred over the encountered location.

 How to find my region in Google Earth?

That is simple. Only several steps are necessary:

o In the field "Fly to" enter the name of a town or city in your region. We can use Polish letter or not. It does not matter if we enter "Łódź" or "Lodz". We can use Polish or English names, it also makes no difference. So we can enter Kraków or Cracow. It is necessary to enter the name of a country, separating it with comma from the name of a location. The name of a country should be entered in English (e.g. Poland). A sample entry can look like that: "Kraków, Poland" (of course without quotation marks).

o Sometimes we can enter the name of a geographical object instead of a city. For example "Tatry, Poland". However, not all object are encountered by Google Earth. The same concerns locations. If they are too small, they are unknown to Google Earth

o If there are found several objects with the same name, their list will be visible in a panel next to the map. When we click on one of them the map will move to the object we have chosen.

Advanced functions.

Outlining the route

It is possible to outline the route of our travel by clicking on a place of beginning and choosing an option „beginning of a route" in a pop-up and then clicking on a destination and choosing "end of a route" from a pop-up. The application will determine the most optimal route between the marked points. Unfortunately, the option is not available for territory of Poland so far, though it can be used for territory of the Western Europe.

Reading data from GPS of a travelled route or a planned trip:

Google Earth can read files containing data GPS in GPX format. In order to visualize data saved in the format on the map in Google Earth you should:

1.      Install Google Earth

2.      Save data in GPX format to your disk

3.      Launch Google Earth and choose from menu File ->Open

4.      Set a file type to *.gpx in the bottom part of a dialog of a drop-down type field

5.      Find the file with extension *.gpx saved to your disk. Click on it and accept the dialog.

As a result, a set of coordinates will be opened and a route will be shown on the map.

Besides, in a window on the left side of the map in a part named "Places" there will be visible a list of data concerning the trip such as the names of waypoints, tracks and routes. Double clicking on any name from the list will result in showing the object on the map.

Distance measurement

It is possible to measure distances on the map when you press the buttons Ctrl-6 or choose a proper item from menu. Measurement can be taken by use of a path...

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Fig. Measurement by use of a path

... or by use of a line

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Fig. Measurement by use of a  line

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Fig. Measurement of distance on the map

Adding your own data


In order to add our location to Google Earth:

1.      Press Ctrl-N or choose from menu Add->Placemark

2.      Enter in the dialog field that will appear a name of the object you want to add to the map - e.g. "My house"

o       Choose an icon out of a set of available ones by clicking it with a pin. If you omit that step, our object will be symbolized with a pin.

o       Move a flickering tag on the map to a place where you want to add our object.

o       Accept with OK.

 Your object has been placed on the map. At the moment it is visible only for you. If you want it to be visible for other users you have to take further steps:

1.      Find the object you have just added on a list named "Places" on the left side of the map

2.      Click on it with the left mouse button and choose "Save As"

3.      Save your object in a file KMZ somewhere on your hard disk

4.      Copy the file *.kmz to your website

 From now on, all guests visiting our website will be able to download your file *.kmz and if he has Google Earth installed, the file will automatically open showing your location on Google Earth map. You can also send the file *.kmz by e-mail. You must remember that the receiver will be able to see the content of the file on the map only if they have Google Earth application installed on their computer.

 3D Models

The Google company has recently made accessible a new, free of charge tool to Google Earth -Google SketchUp. It can be used to create three-dimensional models of objects that can be added to the map in Google Earth. Method of using Google SketchUp is a different story but such a possibility is worth mentioning, since it helps to build the virtual three-dimensional world not only by the Google company but also by Internauts.

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Fig. A project of the complex of Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas

Versions of Google Earth 

The basic, free of charge version of GE offers a functionality that is sufficient for majority of users. For the more demanding users, however, there are also some other versions equipped with additional functions.

Google Earth Plus allows printing with better resolution  - 1400 DPI in comparison to 1000 DPI from the basic version of GE and importing data from GPS devices. Making use of Google Earth Plus costs 20$ annually

Google Earth Professional is a version dedicated to advanced users. It allows printing with resolution of 2400 DPI, cooperating with GPS, measuring area of a surface, making video films from aerial routes and it provides some other facilities that cost 400 $ annually.

Hardware and software requirements

Google Earth works effectively on the majority of computers that are not older than a few years. For the purpose of optimizing presentations in 3D mode of masses of data transferred via Internet, it makes use of advanced properties of graphics cards that are accessible when working in DirectX or OpenGL mode.           

Websites dedicated to GoogleEarth: