Google Earth

How to Use and Get the Most from Google Earth

Google Earth is a completely free virtual globe, map and geographical software program that was originally developed by a company called Keyhole, Inc, before being purchased by Google in 2004.

It was originally called Earth Viewer when 1st released in 2001, but was renamed to Google Earth in 2005. The program utilizes satellite images and aerial photography to create a 3D map of planet Earth that allows users to zoom in on buildings, terrain, roads and geographical landmarks.

Google Earth supports all major operating platforms such as Windows XP, 7, 8 and 10, Mac OS X 10.6 or later, and Linux. Google Earth can also be installed on Android and iOS devices. Read more about system support at

Google Earth can be downloaded from

How Does Google Earth Work?


You can navigate the Google Earth map in several different ways. Double-click on a place you want to zoom in on (vertical navigation) - left click once on the map to stop the zoom. Click-and-drag on the map to move around horizontally.

You also have a navigation control tool in the top right-hand corner, which can be used for navigation. This tool has three parts:

  • The top part, the large circle, can be used to rotate the map. Click on the circle, and hold to navigate.
  • The smaller circle is used to move around the map, without rotation. The direction depends on where in the circle, you click and hold.
  • The bottom part is used to zoom in (+) or out (-) of the map.

The interface

Google Earth has several menus in different places in the program window. The main menus are top left, top center, and left sidebar.

At the top left you will find File, Edit, View, Tools, Add and Help.

This is the main menu which gives you access to all features of Google Earth. This is also where you can adjust the interface the way you want it, via "View" menu.

Google Earth interface

Top middle you will find several small icons. Here you can arrange the interface, and execute different actions.

Hide Sidebar

This icon can be used to show or hide the sidebar, i.e. the left menu. You can access the sidebar again, by just clicking on the "Show Sidebar" icon.

Google Earth hide sidebar option

Add Placemark

Used to mark a specific location on the map in Google Earth. Clicking on this icon will bring up a window that allows you to type a name to the desired location. It also appears as a yellow pin on the map in Google Earth - you can move this pin to any location in Google Earth that you want. It is also highlighted via the left menu under My Places.

Google Earth add placemark option

Add polygon

This icon has the same function as placemark, except that it now defines a larger area on Google Earth map.

Clicking on polygon icon brings up a window where you can enter a name at the appropriate location. You can then click and drag on the Google Earth map, to draw a polygon structure of your choice.

Google Earth add polygon option

Add to path

You can use this icon to define a path from A to Z, i.e. from one place to another on the Google Earth map. Click the add path icon, and you can then enter the as many points as you want on the map, until you reach the your goal. Then select a name for the trail, and then finally Okay.

Google Earth add to path option

Add Image Overlay

You have the ability to add your own images.

Google Earth add image overlay option

Record Tour

Provides the ability to record a specific tour you take on Google Earth.

Google Earth record tour option

View historic imagery

Allows you to see how it looked on the earth at a particular time in history.

Google Earth view historic imagery option

Show sunlight across the landscape

Adjusts sun or darkness over a certain location.

Google Earth show sunlight across the landscape option

Switch between Earth, Sky or other planets

Allows you to switch between different views in Google Earth. It revolves around views of the earth, moon, mars, plus space.

Google Earth switch between earth, sky or other planets option

Show Ruler

Allows you to measure distance from one place to another on the map. Just click on one place, and then the second on the map and you will be provided with detailed information about the distance between the two locations, in the measurement unit that you want.

Google Earth show ruler option


This icon allows you to send an excerpt from Google Earth. It may involve a screenshot file that opens the current view on Google Earth, or a file that opens as a placemark.

Google Earth email option

Print out

Here you can print a screenshot from Google Earth.

Google Earth print out option

Save Image

Gives you a chance to save the current Google Earth view as an image.

Google Earth save image option

View in Google Maps

This icon activates a view in Google Maps.

Google Earth view in Google Maps option

Layers in Google Earth

Google Earth is composed of several layers, and you can find these layers in the left menu. You can put a checkmark next to the thing you want to appear on the map, and you can uncheck things you don't want displayed on the map. Be aware that in most cases you must zoom in far enough on a map, to show what you want.

Layers in Google Earth option

Borders and Labels

All borders and labels initially appears in Google Earth. If you want these to be removed, simply un-tick the box.


Shows places on the map. Simply un-tick if you do not want this feature.


Displays images which are shared with services Panoramio and 360 Cities.


Shows roads on the map. Simply un-tick if you do not want this feature.

3D Buildings

You can choose whether buildings appear photorealistic or as gray boxes. You can also choose to optionally display trees.

Google Ocean

You can use Google Earth to explore specific parts of the ocean. There are also many subfolders that give you various different options.


Show or remove information on weather conditions.


With the Gallery folder, you get a range of photo galleries on Google Earth. Before you notice Gallery information you need to zoom in on a specific area in Google Earth, so you get the visible icons on the map. You can then click on a specific icon for a closer look at the pictures in the gallery.

Global awareness

This folder gives you an overview of crises on earth. Here you can find information about endangered species, conservation projects and various measures for the environment.


Here you will find deverse additional services such as local place names, parks, transportation and traffic. You can enable traffic information and - you can zoom in on a specifc area and see where the congestion is, i.e. you can see where your traffic flowing freely (yellow), and where it it is congested (red). Remember that you must zoom in on one area, to view information about traffic.

Google Earth Pro is now free

Google announced in January 2015 that Google Earth Pro is completely free to download. With Google Earth Pro, you can print high resolution photos and record HD videos of virtual flights.

Furthermore, with the Pro version you get access to demographic data, allotments and layer traffic. You can access the advanced features for importing GIS, and goals for acreage, radius and circumference on the ground.

You can find Google Earth Pro at

Flight simulator in Google Earth

Flight simulator in Google Earth is a kind of game that allows you to control a plane with the keyboard. You will find the flight simulator via Tools and Open flight simulator. You can choose between two types of aircraft, F-16 and SR22 light aircraft. You can also select airport. Here it is just trial and error.

Google Earth flight simulator option