Sightseeing The busiest airports of 2011


Over the years, the folks at Google Sightseeing have continually produced excellent content. They tend to use Google Maps for their views, so we always like to see how their locations look in Google Earth as well. In the past year or so, we’ve shown you some of their items such as the set of “Wipeout” and exploring the deserts.

Their latest feature covers the Top 5 Busiest Airports of 2011. Living in Atlanta, home of the world’s busiest airport, these kinds of stories always interest me. The numbers shown below are the total number of passengers from January-May, 2011. Let’s get to the list.

5. Los Angeleas International Airport (LAX) — 24,230,832


4. O’Hare International Airport (ORD) — 25,986,415


3. London Heathrow Airport (LHR) — 26,733,585



2. Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) — 31,080,482


1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) — 36,548,629



Another neat image of the Atlanta Airport comes from the folks at Trendsmap. They captured all of the geo-located tweets in the Atlanta area over the course of a year, then plotted them against a dark background. The result is quite cool, as you can clearly see the various terminals of the airport, which are connected by underground tunnels. (details on Flickr)



For other interesting airports in Google Earth, check out the scariest airports in the Caribbean, or perhaps Peter Olsen’s amazing recreation of the 1977 Tenerife Airport disaster.



An explosion at French nuclear plant

There was an explosion at a French nuclear plant that took the life of one worker and injured a few others. Fortunately, no leak has been reported and things seem to be under control.


However, a quick click of the historical imagery button reveals the full plant in high resolution, dated back to 2002.


The plant first went operational in 1956, and while things may have changed slightly in the last 9 years, the aerial imagery from 2002 seems to closely resemble the shots being shown on sites like Yahoo news.

Here are a few thoughts/ideas:

1 — Google itself doesn’t blur imagery; only their providers do. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that Google would ever go back and blur historical imagery if it was provided to them in an un-blurred state at some point. Another potential complication is that the most recent imagery was provided by GeoEye, while the older (clear) imagery was provided by DigitalGlobe.

2 — Perhaps some construction at the site has been under way and things are different now than they were in 2002, or perhaps they are simply blurring the plant going forward to hide any changes that take place in the future.

3 — The imagery in Bing Maps is only slightly blurred; it’s still easy to see where the various buildings are located, though Bing doesn’t provide a precise date on their imagery.

Global overlays with KMZmaps

We’ve seen global overlay files before on Google Earth, including items such as the popular blue marble overlay. The folks at have created a variety of very high-quality overlays for use in Google Earth. They’re not free, but they’re reasonably priced and quite impressive. Here are few of them:

Natural Globe: A more realistic view of Google Earth, very similar to the blue marble overlay but of considerably higher quality.

natural.jpgNight Lights: Very similar to the NASA “Earth City Lights” layer.

night.jpgColored Edges: There are a variety of Photoshop-edited overlays in here as well; various blurs and effects. Here is one called “colored edges” that is pretty neat.

colored-edges.jpgThey also have a collection of solid color overlays. These overlays are completely solid, effectively hiding the base imagery so that roads, borders and other items are more well-defined. Here is the dark red version of that, with the “Borders and Labels” and “Roads” layers turned on.

dark-red.jpgLike most maps of this variety, it fades away as you zoom in closer to reveal the base imagery. This allows you to run your favorite overlay all the time, as it will automatically hide itself when you zoom in close enough to look at the details of a specific location. The exception is a special version of the “solid black earth”, which is set to never turn off when you zoom in. They offer both versions, so the choice is up to you.

As I said at the beginning, the big drawback to these files is that they’re not free. They cost roughly $6/each (some vary a bit), with the full collection available for $24.95. However, they also offer a demo map so you can get a feel for how it works. It’s covered with “” text, but you can get a feel for the quality of the imagery and the way the “auto-hide on zoom” works. You can download the sample KMZ file here. To see more of what they have to offer, visit their site at