May 28, 2009 — -- Google Earth, which already seems as complex as Earth itself at times, has a new layer for you to download.
A young engineer there, Sean Askay, decided, while still in school at the University of California-Riverside, to honor the men and women in uniform who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There were nearly 5,700 of them, from October 2001 to March of this year, but Askay created a marker for each one's home town, and pop-up boxes with each of their stories. He called the project "Map the Fallen," and it took him nearly four years to finish.
Google hired him in 2007. The company lets employees use 20 percent of their time on projects of their own.
Askay says his map overlay, detailed as it is, "is just a slice of the story" of the wars in the region; he did not have enough data from veterans' groups and databases to include Iraqi and Afghan civilians, U.S. contractors and reporters or others, and he invites corrections. But this is his tribute.
"I wanted to create a way for everyone to understand, explore and appreciate these sacrifices in the way I saw it: as an issue with incredible scale and reach that was made up of individual, human stories," he wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "I wanted people to relate to those stories that come from their own towns, their own states, and then look across the country and the world and realize these stories are everywhere."
ABCNews.com has gone to the ends of Google Earth (and Maps) to explore some of the most interesting images left behind by Google staffers, artists, Mother Nature and a few pranksters as well.
"Map the Fallen" is only the latest wonder. Here are some others, from the serious to the frivolous.
Google Sky Map lets users view a labeled map of the sky on smart phones powered by Google's Android operating system.
Using GPS technology, a date clock and a compass, it helps users identify and locate all the stellar spectacles in the sky.
With a compass and an accelerometer, the application determines the exact location that your phone is facing and shows you the stars that are visible.
Let's say you want to identify the brightest star over the horizon, you just point the phone in that direction and "Venus" would pop up on your screen.
According to Google, the app doesn't need a line of sight to find the stars and planets. Even on a cloudy night, it will show you the stars up in the night sky.