Google is about to unveil a 'brand new' Google Earth

While Google Earth remains a reliable resource if you're after some stunning satellite views of our blue planet, for many users the software has taken a back seat to Google Maps in recent years as the latter now incorporates so many of Earth's features.

But invitations sent out this week for a New York City event introducing "the new Google Earth" indicate that the company is far from done with its virtual globe.

Taking place on April 18, the invite promises "a first look at the brand new experience" while offering nothing in the way of details. But considering the entire event is dedicated to Google Earth, major changes and new features are guaranteed.

It's possible the next-generation Google Earth could incorporate virtual reality features from the VR version released on the Steam gaming platform last November, or perhaps offer a radical overhaul of Earth's user interface. Whatever it is, all will be revealed on Tuesday, so be sure to check back then for more details.

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It's already come a long way

Google Earth launched as EarthViewer 3D in 2001 and was then owned by Keyhole, a CIA-funded firm that Google acquired in 2004. The following year, the software relaunched as Google Earth for PCs, before launching for smartphones -- first the iPhone -- in 2008.

The software, which has been downloaded well over a billion times by users around the world, also includes a raft of features such as Street View, a sky mode for viewing stars and other celestial bodies, and a flight simulator for PC users.

Google Earth certainly remains a powerful tool for mobile and desktop, and if you've forgotten about it in favor of Maps, the web giant hopes that after next week you'll be ready -- and eager -- to rediscover the software.