Google Earth Honors Iraq War Dead

Newest wonder, "Map the Fallen," marks homes of Iraq war dead.

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." 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

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.

Heart-Shaped Lakes and 10-Foot Snakes

Arizona's Oprah Maze

She's one of the biggest stars on the planet, so it only makes sense that she has a special place in Google Earth too. Arizona's Schnepf Farms carves a maze with the outline of a famous person into its 10-acre cornfield each year around Halloween. Larry King, Jay Leno and Steve Nash are among the celebrities who have been recognized in this way. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey was the farm's celebrity of choice.

Heart-Shaped Lake

Google Earth Blog's Frank Taylor and Google Sightseeing's James Turnbull said that there's a lot of love on Google Earth. They've compiled whole collections of heart-shaped things seen from space, as well as a handful of visible marriage proposals. This heart-shaped lake in Ohio is just one of several like it found by members of the Google Earth community.

Man Walking His Snake

Leon Kidd, 25, was photographed carrying his 10-foot boa Nibblez along a road in Norwich last summer, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported Wednesday. Norwich is one of 25 U.K. cities included in Google Street View, that lets users see cities and neighborhoods virtually from their computers.

Kidd, who owns five snakes, told the Telegraph that walking his boa is regular activity.

"I take her out nearly every day in summer in Earlham Park," he said. "A lot of people are surprised, others are curious and ask if they can touch her. She loves being taken out, especially going in the grass."

"I didn't even notice I was being photographed by the Google car," he said. "Then about three weeks ago my cousin phoned me and said I was in the newspaper."

Firefox Crop Circles

In a bid to generate some PR buzz for the Web browser in 2006, some Firefox fans made a gigantic Firefox logo in a crop field. According to the Google Earth Blog, the project involved significant planning, building of the crop stompers, GPS devices and a helicopter (to capture the aerial photo). This crop circle is one of a large collection of crop circles visible through Google Earth.

Jesus in the Sand Dunes

In 2005, the Google Earth blogs were chattering about reports of the face of Jesus in Peruvian sand dunes. Some say they don't see the resemblance to Jesus Christ, but others still wonder about the origins of the hazy image.

Googling for Gold

Los Angeles musician Nathan Smith believes a 19th century Spanish galleon laden with gold and silver is buried on a ranch in south Texas. He is convinced he found its location using Google Earth.

The only problem now? If the ship does exist, it is buried on private property.

The family that owns the land doesn't want anyone digging up their property for a ship no one has proved even exists.

"It has been my experience, more times than not, a legend like this, there is some basis of truth," Smith said. "Because it has been around long enough that they have named it Barkentine Creek. That alone makes me think that there was, or is, something buried out there."

A barkentine is a kind of sailing ship.

Smith has brought the landowners to federal court in a case titled Smith vs. Abandoned Ship, and has argued he has the right under maritime law to dig up a ranch he doesn't own looking for a ship no one is sure exists.

The Lost City of Atlantis?

Using the latest version of Google Earth, which allows users to peer under the sea, a British engineer believed he spotted the lost city of Atlantis off the coast of Africa, about 600 miles from the Canary Islands.

The image on Google Earth appears to show a grid-like pattern, which some have said resembles a planned city.

The ancient city was first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato, and legend holds it sank into the sea. The exact location of the city, and whether such a place even existed, has obsessed treasure hunters for centuries.

Google, however, had a much less exciting explanation for the undersea pattern.

"It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth, including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an ancient Roman villa," a statement from Google read. "In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process.

"Bathymetric [or sea floor terrain] data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor," the statement added. "The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data."

Maxim Goes Mega for its 100th Issue

To celebrate its 100th issue, Maxim magazine constructed an 8,250-square-foot replica of its cover featuring "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria.

The 110-foot-long image took 15 hours to install in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas.

Rather than wait for Google Earth's satellites to capture the image, Maxim photographed the gigantic cover from an airplane. Using the aerial photo, Google digitally overlaid the image onto the exact spot in the desert.

Pool Dipping

In the summer, Google Earth helped British teenagers start a new craze: pool dipping. The cunning teens used Google Earth to find homes with pools and then organized pool parties using social networking sites. This led a police representative to tell the U.K. Telegraph, "We are advising owners of swimming pools to be on their guard and extra vigilant. We would also warn prospective swimmers that using someone else's pool is trespassing and therefore illegal."

Street Party

The street view in Google Maps typically shows the humdrum life of America's intersections and alleyways, but last May, two Pittsburgh artists, with the help of more than 100 co-conspirators, threw a street party for the entire Internet.

Timing various public performances along one street, Sampsonia Way, as a Google-owned car drove by snapping pictures, the artists, Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett, were able to create a montage of spontaneous performances.

Google already shot its Pittsburgh street views but agreed to come back to shoot the art installation. The company said it wouldn't guarantee that it would use the new images, but when Kinsley looked, there they were.