Happy New Year! We're starting things off with a number of exciting updates.

With help from a team of USGS scientists, we reengineered the Earthquake layer to be more accurate and informative. And to top it all off, we gave it a fresh new look. This layer presents historic earthquake epicenters of magnitudes greater than 3 for the entire world over the last 40 years. It's very fun to look at if you're interested in geology. For instance, did you know that large earthquakes happen most frequently at tectonic plate boundaries? If you zoom far out and connect the large earthquake dots, you will get a rough graph of these areas. The information balloons that appear on the map tell you the magnitude, depth, and date of the earthquake. And if you're interested in tracking earthquakes happening in real time, you can download the USGS Real-Time Earthquake KML file from any of the earthquake bubbles. The KML file will be added to the "Temporary Places" panel on the left, and it will automatically refresh every 5 minutes, showing the latest earthquakes around the world. So if you're feeling a jolt under your feet but not sure if it's an earthquake or your neighbor playing Wii, now you have a way to find out.

We expanded one of our most popular layers -- National Geographic -- to three more continents: Europe, Asia, and South America. These new additions feature interesting stories about everything from China's fearsome Taklimakan Desert, where Marco Polo traveled, to the hyacinth macaws of Brazil.

And finally, we added and updated roads in 26 countries: Russia, Malaysia, Thailand, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Place names in Taiwan, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Turkey will now be labeled in their local language, and bodies of water will be labeled in the language you have Google Earth set to.