What is Google Earth?


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What is Google Earth?

A photo of the Earth from space with sunlight glimpsing over its horizon.

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In this activity, we will explain what Google Earth is, how it works and how easy it is to find your way around.

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What is Google Earth?

Google Earth is a computer program that’s like an interactive digital atlas. It shows you the whole planet, right down to your own house.

A screenshot of the Google Earth website as seen from a laptop computer.

Where can you use Google Earth?

Google Earth works on smartphones and tablets, but the best experience is on the bigger screen of a laptop or desktop computer.

In this course, we’ll focus on how to use Google Earth on a desktop computer.

A graphic of Google Earth displayed on different devices.
An illustration of Google Earth to show comparison to what Google Maps looks like.

Google Earth vs Google Maps

You might have heard of Google Maps. Google Maps looks similar to Google Earth, but it's more like a street directory than an atlas. Google Maps provides real-time directions and traffic flow that help you get around, while Google Earth focuses on world discovery.

Simple controls let you fly around the world

With Google Earth, you use your mouse to rotate the globe on the screen and click on any location to zoom down through the clouds to street level.

You can search for any address on the planet and ask to see landmarks like Uluru or the Eiffel Tower.

It’s like you’re flying across the world in seconds.

An illustration of Google Earth with Uluru as the location being shown on the screen.
An illustration of Google Earth with the Taj Mahal in India as the location being shown on the screen.

Much more than a simple atlas

Unlike a printed atlas, Google Earth is dynamic, as it's regularly updated with new satellite and aerial photography.

More than a great view of the world, it's also a travel encyclopaedia, complete with virtual tours of all sorts of places, such as the Taj Mahal.

Walk the streets

Once you zoom in on a location, you can go for a virtual walk thanks to Street View. This puts you right in the middle of the scene as if you were really standing there.

Street View offers a 360-degree view of the world, stitched together from images taken by cameras from the global fleet of Street View cars.

A screenshot of a virtual walk around the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You can see the people, the landmarks and the area around the Tower in amazing detail. This shows what the Tower looks like when you are using Google Earth’s street view function.

Revisit your old haunts

Google Earth isn't just for exploring new places or planning holidays. It also makes it easy to reconnect with places that mean something special to you.

You can take a tour of your old neighbourhood or check out the major landmarks in your life, such as your first house, first school and where you got married.

A screenshot of an old Church in England. This shows what the church looks like when you are using Google Earth’s street view function.
A padlock that represents being safer online.

eSafety tip

Although you can view streets and houses with Google Earth, you are not looking at them in real time. You are looking at photographs taken from satellites in space or the Space Shuttle itself, as well as photographs taken from airplanes.

So, although the images are updated regularly, if you look at your own house on Google Earth, then walk outside, you won’t be able to see yourself on the screen.

A photo of an old temple in Jordan.

Master the tricks of Google Earth

Google Earth is simple to use if you just want to zoom around the world, but it has much more to offer once you take the time to master it.

The next few activities in this course will show how to get even more out of Google Earth, putting the world at your fingertips.

Well done

You’ve reached the end of the What is Google Earth? activity.

You have learned that Google Earth is a digital atlas that allows you to zoom right down to street level to see amazing sites.

Next up, we’ll look at how to use Google Earth, in the Getting started with Google Earth activity.

An aerial photo of a suburban street cross section. The photo may have been taken from a drone as it’s looking directly down to the ground.