Gaze up at the night sky and what do you see? An endless ocean of darkness dotted with stars, distant planets, and our bright moon. Most of us, here on Earth, see very little of our solar system, and as educators, this can make teaching about space and our planets challenging. But, that’s all about to change.
Today, astronomers have seen further into our universe than ever before and have amassed an immense collection of knowledge that paints a precise picture of our solar system. However, one of the challenges experts face is how to communicate their extraordinary findings with the world effectively.
One powerful solution gaining a great deal of attention is virtual globes—digitalized models that allow us to see and interact with the planets of our solar system in a fundamentally new way.
Virtual globes are computer-based, three-dimensional (3D) representations of globes, such as Earth, Mars or the Moon. Designed using interactive software, a virtual globe allows users to move freely around the digital model by altering the viewing angle with actions like zoom, tilt, and rotate.
A virtual globe can demonstrate multiple surface views. For example, it can show geographical features such as mountains, oceans, plains, and rivers; in addition to more complex and abstract information such as how weather patterns over time.
Google Earth was one of the first widely adopted virtual globes and is today used by millions of people across multiple countries. Using satellite imagery, the intuitive application allows users to explore every corner of our planet with the swipe of a finger. You can see 3D cities from above and then dive in for a 360° perspective using Street View.
To use a virtual globe, you must first install the applications on your computer or smart device and be connected to the internet. The application’s environmental data, such as terrain, aerial photographs, and satellite images are stored on a remote server and streamed over the internet to your device when using the application.
Downloading high-resolution images of an entire planet requires a great deal of internet and even with the fasted connection would be painstakingly slow. However, virtual globe technology overcomes this problem by using image tiling. This involves segmenting large images into smaller, more manageable ones. Essentially, the resolution of an image changes when you zoom in or out, and the image pixels are only loaded once a tile comes into view. This provides a near seamless user experience.
Virtual Globes present a tremendous opportunity for teachers by offering a radically new way of looking at our planets and solar system. With captivating 3D imagery, virtual globes can spark curiosity in science and geography as well as promote spatial thinking in the classroom.
Students can utilize this technology for inquiry-driven, problem-based learning. Imagine taking a virtual field trip to Moon to investigate the impact craters, dead volcanoes, and lava flows? Or, retracing the paths of early explorers like Christopher Columbus and measuring the distance and area covered?
Teachers can utilize virtual globes in many different capacities. Below are some examples:
Giving students access to the internet is a balancing act between connection and protection. With online freedom, there’s always a risk that students will be exposed to inappropriate images, people, influence, or online bullying. However, by filtering the content and applications we provide in an educational setting, we can help protect our younger students. Virtual globes can act as a nearly endless source of pre-vetted knowledge through embedded photos, videos, and text. Education-based applications can control the quality, accuracy, and safety of information, making it suitable for students of all ages.
Virtual globes are fitted with comprehensive data sets, including images, statistics, and graphics on environmental topics like weather patterns, natural disasters, agriculture, water quality, and population density. This presents a unique opportunity for teachers to further students’ understanding of the planet and empower the next generation to consider solutions for a healthier and sustainable future. With access to real satellite imagery, students can gain a visual perspective on how our planet has changed over time and develop a greater sense of global awareness concerning topics like climate change and evolution.
AstroReality is one of the newest and most exciting virtual globes available today. The application works in combination with ultra-realistic models of each planet and moon in our solar system. Students can hold a 3D-printed model in their hand and bring the celestial body to life through augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).
AstroReality goes beyond visualizing each planet through the use of satellite imagery and precise surface details, to also allow users to learn about the many wonders of the solar system in a more interactive way. Students simply open the AstroReality app and point their smart device at the model to access a virtual planet. Each model can be viewed from every angle and is filled with a library of statistics, images, videos, and fascinating information.
When using the AstroReality EARTH virtual globe, students can pose questions to “Gaea,” the system’s artificial intelligence. The EARTH model is an incredible resource that empowers students to explore the past, present, and future of our planet, its wildlife, plants, geology, meteorology, environment, and more.
As we stand on Earth, space seems so obscure and far away. But it is, in fact, all around us and begins just beyond our atmosphere. Of course, it is currently beyond our capabilities for everyone to venture into space and explore the planets of our solar system. But with virtual globes, we can all get that little bit closer and teachers, in particular, can feed the young and curious minds of tomorrow.
Find out more about AstroReality virtual globes and start your space exploration today!