Explore the Antarctic with Google Maps and Street View

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Armchair explorers can now enjoy impromptu South Pole safaris from the warm comfort of their cozy homes. Google announced on Tuesday that its Street View team has been hard at work collecting 360-degree imagery of notable locations in Antarctica and has finally posted some of its work to the World Wonders Project website. Featured destinations include the South Pole TelescopeShackleton's hutScott's hutCape Royds Adélie Penguin Rookery and the Ceremonial South Pole.

In 2010, Google had already begun posting static photographic imagery taken from Antarctica to Google Maps. Unlike past photos though, the latest additions combine high-resolution, panoramic imagery with the same camera panning, rotation and zooming features users expect from Google Street View. The search giant worked with the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center and the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust in order to bring these images to the rest of us.

Google claims its altruistic goal is to provide scientists and students with the most accurate high-resolution data available for historic and notable locations in Antarctica. I think there's a part of Google that just does it because it can though -- and that's certainly not a bad thing.

Given Antarctica’s bitterly-cold and challenging environment, Google didn't use trikes or vehicles mounted with 3D imaging systems. Instead, Google used portable cameras with fish-eye lenses -- the type of equipment typically used for capturing virtual tours for real-estate agencies and other organizations. One benefit is Google was also able to capture panoramic imagery inside landmark structures, giving users the opportunity to see inside places that Street View couldn't normally go.

Antarctica is a big place. What Google currently offers is only a very miniscule slice of what rests at the southern-most terrain of our planet, but it's a solid start nonetheless. I'm left wondering if we'll see LIDAR-mounted snowmobiles whizzing along rolling dunes of Antarctic snow any time soon.

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