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The next best thing to actually flying over this marvelous planet is doing so virtually. The internet is crammed with resources that can help clarify the view from on high. This page contains links to some of the best, and some suggestions on where you might go from there.

Images and Maps

Satellite images and maps of most of the world are available online. Government images are generally public domain, and can usually be obtained for free or at very low cost. Images from private companies can be quite expensive, but they are available at much higher resolutions and in many more formats and versions. The venerable US Geological Survey (USGS), the government agency responsible for mapping the United States and monitoring the environment, has huge amounts of map and satellite data available online. In Canada, Natural Resources Canada also provides the public with comprehensive coverage. You'll find countless thousands of images here:

Google Earth

Without a doubt, the best earth observation tool ever made available to the public in all of human history. If that sounds like hyperbole, just download the free application and try it!

But you'll need an up-to-date computer and a fast internet connection to really appreciate Google Earth. To get a more accessible taste, try Google Maps, which will work in any browser.

Live Local

Microsoft's answer to Google Maps.

The National Map

A browsable and flexible atlas of the United States created by the USGS.

Earth Explorer

Search, view, and order maps and many kinds of satellite images from the USGS.


Natural Resource Canada's searchable database of topographic maps also lets you view and order satellite images.

GlobeXplorer ImageAtlas

A database of satellite imagery searchable by street address that lets members of the public view and buy natural color images of most of the world.

Spot Image

The commercial distributor of data from the French SPOT Earth Observation satellites. With high-resolution, worldwide coverage, most SPOT data is beyond the reach of the casual user. Fortunately, SPOT makes available a wide range of beautiful and relevant images on their website.


Gorgeous high-resolution satellite images from the largest private satellite company--it owns several satellites and is launching more. The interface lets you explore incredible sample imagery.

Karlsruher Wolkenatlas

A page that gives you access to real-time satellite images from around the world. While other services use archived images, these are images of the earth as it appears at this very moment--so you'll be able to imagine the challenges of putting together the imagery on some of the other sites here.


An alternate interface to GlobeXplorer and other data.

Terraserver USA

Microsoft's online mapping company stitches together public domain USGS maps and images of the USA with a user-friendly interface.


It's one thing to look at the Earth, but quite another to figure out what's going on down there. Here are some good starting points:

World Atlas

An online atlas where you can learn about the landforms of North America and elsewhere.

Lunar and Planetary Institute

A site that explains the human impacts seen in satellite photos of the Earth. In addition to helping you identify the sorts of things you might see flying over North America, here you'll also see human features unique to other parts of the world.

A Biography of America

A history of the United States with particular attention to the way history has been writ on the land.

Canadian Landscapes

A searchable collection of landscape features throughout Canada from the Geological Survey of Canada, with great photos and clear explanations. Especially good information about glacial terrain.


An online project to bring the public eye to bear on places and activities that governments around the world have traditionally hidden from view. Provides useful information on various otherwise mysterious facilities.


The view from your window seat is made possible by a very impressive coordination of science, industry, and government coming together to carry you through the stratosphere in safety and comfort, and astonishingly cheaply. Here are some of the entities we have to thank:

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

The FAA governs and maintains the world's most complex system of air traffic control with remarkable aplomb. Their website is a little unruly, but it's worth poking around in for the gems you're sure to find. In Canada, this is the responsibility of Transport Canada. In Europe, it is in the hands of Eurocontrol.

General Aviation

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that helps the general public learn about the aviation system.