Just a few years ago, online aerial maps as well as satellite images were a novelty. Not in the sense that people didn't know what they were, but in that they had never been as accessible. Everyone was amazed at the fact that you could go onto Google Maps, hover over any part of the globe and zoom in, all the way to street level. The images of some areas were of better quality than others, but it was still something new and exciting to do. Aerial and satellite maps today are easy to find on line, and if you search around, you can find some pretty cool images taken by surveyors.

Man Made Land Marks

When you're standing in front of the Great Wall of China, witnessing it at ground level, you get to see the small details, and when you follow it all the way to the horizon with your eyes, you get a sense of its vastness, a kind of idea of how much of the Earth it covers. Seeing a satellite image of it from space, while depriving you of the details, gives a true sense of just how huge this man-made monument really is. If you browse around, you can find a ton of stunning aerial views of man-made marvels like this. One particularly interesting sight is the monuments to President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan in the city of Ashgabat. Google maps offers close up aerial views of his many palaces and memorial buildings, where you can see clearly the level of grandiose symmetry Niyazov was fond of.

Another thing that aerial maps and digital elevation models can provide is a bird's-eye view of certain historical moments. The recent presidential inauguration, for example, was one of the biggest in history, with hundreds of thousands gathered in the streets of Washington, D.C. to witness a great moment. Seeing it from an aerial perspective gives you a new sense for just how many people there were.

Natural Spectacles

Similarly, seeing natural landmarks, like the Grand Canyon and the Rio Grande, from an aerial or satellite view gives you a feel for how they fit into the surrounding land. Digital mapping companies often include special views along with the plain overhead perspective, so you can get a different angle on a particular site.

Google Street View

One of the most popular features of Google Maps is the ability to go to any major city on the globe and take a virtual, street-side tour of it. The vehicle-mounted video cameras that capture these images work around the clock to keep the street view image updated fairly regularly. Exploring Google's street view feature is like wondering through a digital diorama of contemporary everyday life, and some of the images you find can be pretty interesting. From the lady falling into her car trunk as she's taking out the groceries to the guy who obviously had too much to drink the night before, Google's street view is a treasure trove of random, quirky moments.