"The surprise for us was how compelling this way of visualizing, this way of exploring is, and how much of this kind of data was available," Sargent says. "That may be more important than capturing pictures with panning at this point."
Beyond the novelty and eye-candy appeal of panning and zooming through a moving image, the GigaPan team hopes that Time Machine will be used as a learning tool. Annotated tours, called time warps, lead the viewer through one aspect of a data set. For instance, a time warp in the sun imagery highlights the eruption of a solar filament by drawing the viewer to the location of the eruption and automatically zooming in on the action as it unfolds. A running-text sidebar explains "why it looks the way it looks," Sargent says. "Most people will start off looking for things themselves then go back and try one of the tours," he predicts.
Being able to explore imagery in such depth—moving at will through both time and space—may be novel, but it seems perfectly intuitive to Time Machine's users, Sargent says. "This idea of being able to zoom and play doesn't surprise people at all," he says. "They've played with Google Maps and with YouTube enough to know how to do it."