Exploding stars, colliding galaxies and a grand tour of the Solar System are just a mouse click away thanks to Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT), a free tool that combines high resolution images from the best ground and space based observatories to bring the wonders of the Universe to your desktop computer.
A taster of the types of objects you can expore using the WWT, as photographed with the 200-inch Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory. From left to right: the Crab Nebular, edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 891, Neptune, Mars, Hubble's Variable Nebula, the Orion Nebula, spiral galaxy NGC 2403, and globular cluster M92. Image: Palomar Observatory.
Panoramic images of the sky obtained at Palomar Observatory and by the Two Micron All Sky Survey, plus observations from the Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble Space Telescopes have been brought together in a new product released by Microsoft, which allows the user to pan and zoom around the sky, planets, galaxy and beyond. Images of over 50 million galaxies and a billion stars form the basis of images in the northern hemisphere alone, thanks to a major survey conducted by the Palomar Observatory in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Stitching together terabytes worth of data, the high resolution images of celestial gems are available to view through a choice of telescopes, providing a multi-wavelength view of our galaxy. Users can also view the locations of planets in the night sky in the past, present or future. Taken as a whole, the package provides a thorough insight into the science of astronomy.
"The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the Universe," says Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the Universe."
Microsoft's mission to make the Universe accessible to everyone began years ago by renowned Microsoft Senior Researcher Jim Gray. WorldWide Telescope is built on top of Gray's pioneering development of large-scale, high-performance online databases including SkyServer and his contributions to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a project to map a large part of the Northern sky outside of the galaxy. Microsoft Research is releasing WorldWide Telescope as a tribute to Gray with the hope that it will inspire and empower kids of all ages to explore and understand the Universe in an unprecedented way.
"The progression from William and Caroline Herschel's visual catalogs in the late 1700s to digital pictures available to anyone with a home computer shows the amazing advances in astronomy over two centuries, and also the continuity of our subject," says Wallace Sargent, Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.
Users can download the WWT from www.worldwidetelescope.org, but it only runs on a Windows operating system.