We've all had those moments where we wander outside and stare up at the stars, looking for comets or satellites and wondering what we look like from space. If that bright star were actually a martin spaceship, could they see us from there? Though Teraserver was one of the first sites to do so, now a number of different mapping sites are able to show you what your house looks like from space. By compiling images from a number of different satellite passes, usually from USGS mapping satellites, they are able to give a composite satellite map of the world we live in. Google Maps, Mapquest, teraserver, and a number of other mapping sites all use this satellite imagery; sometimes working off of the same images and sometimes using different satellite passes. The quality can vary depending on location and satellite coverage; while in one area you may be able to see individual cars parked in driveways other areas, especially rural areas, may not be covered as well.
Depending on the area you may only be able to make out major roads and geographical features and not be able to make out individual houses or roads. Satellite maps are interesting tools since they give you a bird's-eye (or martin's-eye) view of our homes and other areas of interest. Most satellite map providers have links to points of interest like the Hoover Dam or the Statue of Liberty. It's often interesting to see how big (or small) these features actually are when compared to the surrounding landscape. Google Maps even has an overlay feature where drawn street maps can be laid directly on top of the satellite map, giving users a clear idea of what they're looking at and how the area in question is located relative to nearby towns and roads. This can be particularly helpful when looking in an area without many obvious geographical features like lakes and rivers.
Satellite maps aren't only interesting diversions; they can be great for planning everything from road trips to backcountry excursions. Though they shouldn't serve as substitutes for a good road map if you're driving or a topographic map if you're hiking, satellite maps can give an alternative, advance perspective into unknown territory. Many hikers and backcountry skiers have found them indispensable for providing another mode of getting information about unknown backcountry mountains and passes where the topographic maps may not tell the whole story.
Dan Sherman has started an information based website to offer advice on topics similar to those discussed above. Visit him at his website by Clicking Here (or go to http://www.theroadmap.info).