Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Microsoft Can Have You Seeing Stars

If you’ve always wanted to be an astronomer but aren’t quite ready to quit your day job, Microsoft has just the solution for you.

Computer users now play astronomer, thanks to WorldWide Telescope by Microsoft. The free, virtual service combines images and databases from every major telescope and astronomical organization in the world, allowing users to take a virtual tour of the night sky.

The WorldWide Telescope stitches together terabytes of high-resolution images of celestial bodies from a variety of sources, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. It then displays them in a way that replicates their actual position in the sky.

Through a video game-like experience, users can freely browse through the solar system, galaxy and beyond, or take guided tours of the sky hosted by astronomers and educators at major universities and planetariums.

WorldWide Telescope will surely be compared with Google Sky but the ability to build a custom multimedia planetarium show sets it apart from Google’s tool. Users will actually be able to use the Microsoft program to create their own space tours, and share them with their friends. Hmmm….do I sense a space race here?

Microsoft said it is offering the resource for free in memory of Jim Gray, the Microsoft researcher who disappeared last year while sailing to the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco. The project is an extension of Gray's work, which included the development of large-scale, high-performance online databases.

A test version of the software is available for download.
-- Michelle Savage

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