Scientists and software engineers at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a research lab at Columbia University in New York, have conspired to develop a colorful, graphically detailed working model of your favorite planet that you can take with you wherever you go.  EarthObserver, a tool for all ages and levels of Earth science expertise, is available for the iPad and the iPhone-iPod Touch free of charge, for now, at the iTunes App Store.

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This powerful education and research application puts at your fingertips a whole raft of scientifically accurate maps and overlays of up-to-date information of a regional and global scale, including U.S. coastal bathymetry and nautical charts and the entire U.S. Geological Survey collection of topographical sheets for the U.S. mainland, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. There are worldwide geological and geophysical maps showing details of geological formations, earthquakes, tectonic plates, magnetic and gravity anomalies — you name it.

You can take the temperature of the land surface and ocean surface and closely examine features of the ocean floor. You can study river drainages and the prevalence of snow and ice. You can study the composition of the atmosphere and the properties of clouds. You can locate natural hazards such as cyclones, droughts, floods and volcanoes and examine human impacts such as population density or infant mortality rates.

Project director William B. Ryan, a Lamont marine geologist, says the application "exposes the public to far richer data than has ever been available, in a form that has enormous potential beyond the flat screen of a computer." That said, the mobile EarthObserver is a natural companion application for two powerful, freely available Lamont-Doherty applications — GeoMapApp and Virtual Ocean — that run on Windows, Unix/Linux and Mac OS X computers.

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This user found the new application especially attractive on the larger screen of the iPad — where the images above were captured in landscape orientation. One graduate student, reviewing the application online, thought it would be "extremely useful…to anyone in oceanography, geology, geophysics, or any type of earth science."  But you don't have to be a scientist to like it.

IMAGES: I captured the maps above off my iPad screen showing ocean surface temperatures (top) and geologic formations. Click on them to get the full effect.