Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Google Earth Plane Game

Today I had some fun.  I grabbed some pictures I had taken last week from my airplane window and thought, "Gee ... I wonder if I can find all of these on Google Earth."  And wouldn't you know it?  Using a little bit of math and a little pattern recognition, I found them all.

Step 1.  Start with a picture that's easy to find, such as a large recognizable land formation.  This one only took a couple of minutes to find.

Once you find that picture, you know which way the airplane window is facing.  And if you have timestamps on your pictures, you can estimate how many miles there are between them.  Just take the difference in minutes and multiply by 10.

For example, the picture above has a timestamp of 1:30:42.  The picture I took before that has 1:24:25.  That's a difference of 6 minutes, 17 seconds.  Take the seconds, divide by 60 and add to the number of minutes to get 6.28.  Then multiply by 10 to get 62.8 miles.

Once you have distance, you can estimate the direction of the airplane.  They like to follow curvy paths (along great circles on the globe).  So, if you start with the location of picture #1 and draw a line toward (or away from if going backwards) the destination point, and draw a line away from (or toward) the departure point, it will narrow down the location of your next picture.  (You can check out my very last picture at the end to see the lines I drew.)

I was surprised how fast I found the next obscure picture ...

Then I used the same technique to quickly find pictures #3 through #14.  Even the cloudy obscure circle-y ones were easy to find.

I challenge you to try the same game should you remember next time you're on a plane.  Can you find your pictures?  Have fun, and good luck!


Mahmoud Reza said...

How dare you make assumption all airplanes fly at 600m/h?
It is like to say all the white people are not black. you are doomed.

Btw, I remember those circles when I flew over the TX/NM five years ago. I asked a smart Texan friend and he did not know what they were. It seemed like a system of irrigation for the crops.
Anyway, enjoy your vacation in the land of formation.

Melvyn Windham said...

Another interesting tidbit ... measuring those circles/squares on Google Earth, I learned that each square is exactly one mile across. That means the largest circles are about 0.785 square miles or 502 acres.