Google Maps in space
You might expect Google Maps to cover just the Earth and to focus on getting around, finding directions and places of interest, but it does a lot more. You can zoom out to Earth orbit and look around the International Space Station and you can zoom out even farther and see the planets and moons, even as out far as Pluto.
To leave the Earth and head out into space, go to maps.google.com in Chrome browser.
Keep clicking the minus button in the bottom right corner of the map to zoom out as far as it will go. Click the Satellite button and you zoom out into space.
A panel appears on the left with a list of the planets and some of the moons orbiting them. Select a planet or moon to see a photograph of the surface of the body.
Major landmarks are labelled and clicking them opens a panel on the left with a brief description. You can also zoom in as with regular maps and see the surface of the planet or moon close up. See mountain ranges, craters and more.
Also in the sidebar is the International Space Station and selecting it teleports you inside. This is a not a map, but a 360 degree view that you can explore. Click and drag the mouse around the image to look in all directions, and zoom in to see greater detail
It works like street view and you can see arrows and click in the distance to move forward. It’s a bit disorienting because there is no up or down in space, and there are wires everywhere, but moving around isn’t too hard. You can look out of the windows, move around the compartments and more.
Some of the equipment for example, is labelled and clicking it opens a panel with a description. There is lots to explore and discover in the space station.
Google Maps Lite
If Google Maps is slow, you might see a pop-up offering to switch to the Lite mode. This is less demanding of the computer and internet connection, so it is quicker. I couldn't get into space in the Lite mode though.
Google Earth Photos and Voyager
Google Earth (earth.google.com) starts out in space, but you end up on the ground looking at street level photos. Before trying this, click the menu button to open the side panel and turn on the switch next to Photos.
(If Google Earth isn't working, try going to Settings in Chrome, click Advanced and turn on hardware acceleration when available near the bottom.)
A few photo bubbles immediately appear on the satellite image and as you zoom in their number increases. These photo bubbles are some of the millions of photographs that people around the world take every day on their phones and cameras.
Zoom in to an interesting location and click a photo bubble. It is not one photo, but a collection of them and there can be up to 20 images. Click through them using the arrows and see the interesting buildings, landscapes and street views that other people have photographed.
Popular tourist spots have the most images and there are sometimes hundreds. It is fascinating exploring locations through the photos people take.
Open the Google Earth menu again and click Voyager. This is a collection of guided tours around interesting places and topics. For example, there is a haunted house tour that shows houses from around the world where there is thought to be ghosts.
You can explore locations where dinosaurs were found in The Day The Dinosaurs Died, and view a collection of National Treasures created by BBC Earth.
There is so much to explore and discover in Google Maps and Earth that you can spend an hour or more at a time exploring them.