If you love Google Earth, or if you just love exploring hard-to-reach places from the comfort of your couch, then Google's latest program might keep you entertained during the holiday season. Google Body allows web-surfers to explore the ins and outs of a typical human body in 3-D. (After you've stuffed yourself at another holiday party, it might be fun to see exactly where all that cheese goes, right?)

Before you get started, you'll have to have the beta version 9 of the Google Chrome browser loaded onto your computer since the program uses WebGL to run the graphics on the site (rather than a plugin like Flash or Java). Other browsers that are supposed to work with WebGL are Chrome Canary Build and Firefox 4. Once you've done some upgrading (don't forget to reboot after loading the new browser), you can start zooming around the human body, "Fantastic Voyage"-style. 

Google describes the program this way: “Body Browser is a detailed 3-D model of the human body. You can peel back anatomical layers, zoom in, and navigate to parts that interest you. Click to identify anatomy, or search for muscles, organs, bones and more." It's fun stuff, giving you zoomable views of organ systems, the names of muscle groups and those secondary bones you always forget the names of. Seeing exactly how certain joints work was a good refresher for me (remember learning the difference between hinged joints for the elbow, and ball-and-socket, like the hips?), and following the blood flow into and out of the heart always makes me wonder at the fine-tuned machinery of the human body.

While some initial reviews have described the program as too limited, it's still one of the only free, commonly available, in-depth 3-D programs that allows anyone with a laptop and some curiosity to get deep insight into the human body. As a kid who spent hours coloring in my "Gray's Anatomy Coloring Book," this is a huge step forward for those of us who are interested in the human body but no longer enrolled in pre-med programs. (And what a boon for hypochondriacs!)

Google will likely continue to upgrade the program, providing the same ease of navigation around diseased systems (like a malfunctioning kidney, or the reduced breathing capacity of a lung cancer victim); and how cool would it be to see how a fetus fits in the body as it grows, or understand visually how lap-band surgery, or breast implants work in a 3-D program like this?

It would be a fantastic educational tool for parents and teachers to show what exactly happens to the lungs of a cigarette smoker over time, or how obesity wears on the body's various systems. And if student athletes could see how their bodies work from the inside while running, kicking, and jumping, perhaps it could lead to fewer sports-related injuries. 

If you want to check out some of what the program looks like without opening it, there are some great screengrabs of it here

And check out a video tutorial of the program below: