There's a cool new bit of photographic magic from the same group of imaging geeks who created the program GigaPan, which creates perfect panoramic photographs with the help of a robot-controlled tripod. Now you can see panoramas change over time.

GigaPan creators Randy Sargent and Illah Nourbakhsh, formerly of NASA, perfected the GigaPan software at Carnegie-Mellon. GigaPan is a quick and simple way to document panoramic views - whether that's a vast landscape, or just a flower box that you want to capture in granular, zoomable detail.

Many photographers have embraced the technology already - and are sharing their work at the GigaPan website - but it's also a great tool for scientists. Writes Colin Barras in today's New Scientist:

Matthew Sisk, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, has found the technology useful for his work on palaeolithic sites in south-west France. As a site is excavated, it is crucial that each artefact found there is recorded in its original spatial context. Careful note-taking and photography are the norm, but Sisk has gone a step further: he builds 3D computer models of each layer of soil as the excavation proceeds. Now, with the aid of the robotic tripod, he can electronically drape a GigaPan image of the relevant layer over the model for virtual exploration at a later date.

"Archaeology is by its nature a destructive process; we cannot go back after we have excavated a layer," says Sisk. "Being able to refer back with this level of resolution to areas we finished even one or two years ago is invaluable."

NASA researchers are testing the software for use in the next Martian rover. Barras continues:

Sargent and Nourbakhsh's former colleagues at NASA have begun using a version of the GigaPan tripod in field tests in Arizona of their Lunar Electric Rovers. "To be able to view an entire crater in one view while being able to zoom in to a particular rock is an enormously useful tool for geologists trying to characterise how the crater was formed," says Susan Young Lee at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "I believe it is the logical next step to have a system like GigaPan on future missions."

You can see more of the time-lapse GigaPans here, or check out some of the panoramas done during tests for NASA's new Martian rover visual system.