Friday, March 21, 2014

Answer: What's that thing on the horizon?

Here are the questions: 

Here are the questions I had from looking at this image... 
1.  What is that white thing labeled as #1?  Can you find a nice video of this thing close up so we can REALLY see what it is?  
2.  See that line of trees labeled #2?  What kind of trees are they?  

3.  What's the name of that big mountain at #3?   

Here's the quick answer:  

Figure 1: A higher-res photo taken from the same place (with a better camera).

Figure 2: The panorama, with Mt. Diablo labeled on the right, and an open field with
straight edge for siting guideline. (see text below) 

 How did I figure this out?  

I used a couple of different approaches. 

#1:  Look for nearby images / data that can tell you.  I knew the lat/long ( 37.365861, -122.180174 ), but it's unclear what direction this is.  By just going to Maps and dropping in the lat/long, you'll get a map like this.  Notice the pin in the bottom.  That's where the photo was taken (that's the exact lat/long).  Now, which direction is the photo?  

Figure 3: The location of the photo as shown on the Google Map.

If you zoom in a bit, you'll see this. 

At this point my first reaction would have been to use Streetview to look around.  But a quick check shows that there isn't a Streetview image here!  (Why not?  It's a private park.)  So we'll need to try something else.  How else can we figure this out?  

Let's explore the nearby images.  

If you then click on this Images tab in the lower right corner, it will open up a row of nearby images at the bottom of the Map, like this.  

If you then explore a bit by clicking on the images, the first image will be this, a Photosphere taken just a few steps away from the photo site. 

That's great!  Now we can look around and get our bearings.  

Clicking on the image brings it into the main window.  

By turning around a few times and looking at the map above, you'll figure out that our photo must have been taken by looking due north. (That's the view I'm showing here; it lines up with the original photo.)  

Now, if you go back to the main map (as shown in Figure 1), just running your finger due north from the site leads you to a few different things.  There's the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, then Felt Lake, then the Stanford Dish. 

Okay.  What's a "Stanford Dish"?  

The obvious query: 

     [ Stanford Dish ] 

tells us that it's a big radiotelescope that was built in 1966 by the Stanford Research Institute (aka SRI). 

And, by looking at the map, it's pretty easy to see that I-280 ("The World's Most Beautiful Freeway," or so it says on the signs) is between me and the Dish.  That's what's causing the "blobby white line" in the image.  

#2: How to figure out the mountain on the right?   (Method 1: Guideline)  

There are two ways to figure this out.  The most obvious and straightforward way is to look for a clear marker that's nearby in the image that's ALSO in line with the distant image.  

If you look at Figure 3 above, you'll see that straight-edged grassy field.  Looking on the map in Figure 3, you'll see a straight-edge (a property boundary) that appears there.  Here's what it looks like in the aerial view: 

Note the guideline that follows the property boundary (it's the edge of the field where the Dish is located).
 The funny darkness in the center isn't "real," it's an artifact caused by stitching two aerial images
together taken at different times. 

Now, I just zoom out from my location, and pick up the guideline and extend it outward, looking for where it intersects with a named mountain.  I could have done this in Terrain view, but I figured a mountain this big would show up in the regular map.  And I was right--it does. First I start with my local (zoomed-in) map image. 

Then I just copy the arrow from the first image to the second (zoomed-out) map and paste it there. Note that I have NOT rotated the Map, so the heading on the arrow will be the same. 

Look carefully at the top of the arrow and you'll see the most plausible answer:  Mount Diablo.  

Of course, a quick check for images of Mount Diablo shows that this is clearly the same mountain as we see in the original image.  

BUT WAIT!  There's an even simpler way to do this.  (Caution:  This won't always work, but for large geographic features, it will.)  

#2: How to figure out the mountain on the right?   (Method 2: Google Earth clicks)  

If you click on the Earth button (lower left), you can then TILT the view downward.  (Use the Tilt button--looks like 4 little rectangles in perspective, just below the compass needle on the right.) 

A panorama taken in Earth view mode, tilted down so you can see the mountain on the horizon.

Once you're in this mode, many things become possible.  In particular, you can zoom into the mountain (use the + button on the lower right), and then CLICK on the mountain! 

#3 What about the trees? 

If you look at the above map, you'll see those trees are located in a park (the Pearson/Arastradero Open Space Preserve), using that term as a georeference is a good starting point.  For my query I did: 

     [ Arastradero preserve trees ] 

If you look around, only three kinds of trees are mentioned:  oaks (of various kinds), willows, and eucalyptus.  A quick scan through Google Images for each of these trees shows that they look like this: 

If I was to guess, I'd say these trees are eucalyptus.  

And in my clue I mentioned that "you might recognize these trees," and indeed a quick search like this: 

     [ eucalyptus ] 

You'll see that I wrote  in an earlier blogpost (back in November, 2011) "In the above image you can see a long line of trees just below the lake on the left.  That's Felt Lake in the Stanford University foothills.  But those are 60 foot tall eucalyptus trees that used to mark the southern end of the old Stanford farm."  If you check, you'll see I took the image in the same place as the map shown in that earlier blog post.  

But you could also go to Streetview and check out the trees.  You'll see them from the entrance to the parking lot at Arastradero Preserve.  Compare with the above example:  those are eucalyptus.  


Lastly... the video?

I have to admit, this part was too easy... 

     [ Stanford Dish drone video ] 

done on YouTube.  It shows this really nice video shot by a drone pilot flying past the Dish, which you can now see in great and glorious high-resolution ... 

Search Lessons:  This was a classic multi-method problem.  I don't think you can solve this one just by looking on Maps alone--you have to combine information from different resources (Maps + Earth + Streetview + regular queries).  

The trick of extending the guideline along a known feature out into the rest of the map is an old trip of navigating from physical paper maps.  If you've ever spent time in the backcountry carrying around topo maps, this is a common method.  

The initial trick of figuring out the heading by looking for nearby images is an incredibly valuable tactic.  Check out nearby images of all kinds.  You can usually piece together the orientation of the images you're trying to understand.  

Search on! 


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone!

    This one was great, full of fun and knowledge. And, it was hard for me. This is the first time I search something in this way and really had no clue for how to do it. I tried some of what Dr. Russell says in his answer and I was stuck. How far is this object? I was thinking and therefore, I couldn't find more just because I didn't go forward.

    I looked the images and found nothing (Yes, I know 2 lessons for me! I don't know what images I tried guess that moved on map and then lost some important ones.) Also tried searching for example [Mountains near Foothills Park], found nothing and after some time and unable to try on Google Earth, tried other ways but didn't get answers.

    Finally, I have more search lessons than the ones already provided by Dr. Russell and also have new knowledge. Thanks for doing this challenge! Looking your answer, Dr. Russell, it looks so easy and is not. It is like you say, needs lots of works and many tools. I'm learning a lot and I'm sure that when I practice doing the steps will learn even more.

  2. My favorite tip was using the nearby images and hovering over them to know where they were taken in to your location. It works on Chromebook. I can't scroll through any additional images across the bottom but I am assuming this could be done on your Mac. Even though I don't have Google Earth tools I can use other methods. For example I can use a screenshot of the Google Earth map and in Pxlr Editor to draw lines, never considered that before. I assume you did this in Google Earth. Just trying to figure out alternatives until I have a fully functioning Google Earth app. Does the Macbook Pro handle all the functions of Google Earth to your satisfaction? I may wait until they come out with the touchscreen.

    The solution for this challenge is loaded with great ideas.