Billion-Pixel Pictures Allow Ultra-Zooming for Science

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The capital of the first century A.D. kingdom of Nabataea, Petra is famous for its many stone structures such as a monumental temple carved with classical facades into rose-colored rock. (See pictures of the "new seven wonders of the world," including Petra.)

With GigaPan images, even remote researchers can "understand spatial relationships between the different components of a landscape in a way that a map can't offer," Straughn added.

"One of the things you can really pick out from these images is the relationship between the living city of Petra and the surrounding necropolis, the city of the dead—all [mixed] into a rich topography. ... "

(See more Petra pictures.)

World's Best Magnifying Glass?

Geologist Ron Schott, of Fort Hays State University in Kansas, has shot over 300 GigaPan pictures, from panoramic landscapes to close-ups depicting minute characteristics of rock.

"You can see things over a wide area at really good detail. You can actually ... make out small little minerals that you'd need a [magnifying glass] to see" in person, Schott said.

Roadcut in Shale Rock Near Wilson Lake, Kansas

Schott also uses GigaPan to look at the big picture—such as of different layers of sedimentary rock. For example, by comparing the rock layers of opposite sides of a fault, he can determine where geological movement has occurred, and to what degree.

In the future, Schott anticipates high-resolution 3-D modeling that may spring from the technology.

"You could shoot a GigaPan of a glacier or a growing lava dome and come back a day later to see exactly how things have changed."

Desktop Conservation

As a ranger at fossil-packed Durlston Country Park in the United Kingdom, Ali Tuckey aims to get the county-administered park's paleontological treasures in front of as many eyes as possible.

The problem is that the fossils are in seaside deposits too dangerous for tourists or schoolchildren.

GigaPan "is not quite being there, but it's coming close," Tuckey said.

Tuckey also hopes to use GigaPan to enlist virtual volunteers.

For example, he said, "to manage [our grassland habitat] successfully, we have to know the numbers and density of different wildflowers, and we have to keep monitoring, to see the impact we're having with grazing or cutting."

GigaPan images could help many hands make light work of these types of environmental-monitoring tasks, whether at threatened coral reefs, in vanishing rain forests, or on Durlston's grasslands.

"With a great shot of a meadow, people could actually zoom in and count the numbers and varieties of different wildflowers," Tuckey said.

"If we make these astonishing images available on the Web, people could potentially log on at home and do actual research. And it doesn't matter if they are in Birmingham or Singapore."

GigaPan panoramas courtesy Ian Straughn (Petra) and Ron Schott (rock layers).

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