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May 13, 2008

Browse the Sky with WorldWide Telescope from Microsoft Research

Want to try out for yourself what made Robert Scoble cry? Tonight, Microsoft Research has made available the Spring Beta of WorldWide Telescope.

Download: WorldWide Telescope Spring Release

WorldWide Telescope is an application designed to turn your PC into a “virtual telescope” by stitching together terabytes (soon to be petabytes) of high-resolution images of the universe. Massive amounts of data are generated by the various scientific and research facilities and WorldWide Telescope brings the catalog of that data together for anyone to access using the power of the Internet. This new application is particularly exciting for me being someone really heavy into astronomy.  You can also use WorldWide Telescope and connect an ASCOM-capable Telescope to your PC to watch the night sky.  

WorldWide Telescope lets me connect to Communities, access Collections of celestial objects such as the Solar System or Constellations, or take Guides Tours.

Using my mouse, I can navigate the cosmos zooming in and out to any object in the rich catalog of celestial objects. I can right-click to access quick information on any celestial object.

I can use WorldWide Telescope for 4 different “looks” – Panorama, Sky, Earth, or Planets.  By default you are looking into the Sky when WorldWide Telescope but you can change the “look” in the lower left-hand corner of the application. You can view planets of the Solar System in 3D or view a panoramic shot as if you were standing on Mars (my favorite view so far!) taken from one of the NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rover missions.

I can also use WorldWide Telescope to browse the Earth using Virtual Earth.

WorldWide Telescope also lets you copy a view to your clipboard. In browsing the universe tonight with WorldWide Telescope I spotted several of these weird reflection-like images that I’m not entirely sure what they are:

Looks like a reflection from the telescope (or device) that took the image but I’m no expert.

By default, WorldWide Telescope is configured to view the night sky as if you were standing at Microsoft Building 99 in Redmond.  But you can change your Observing Location very easily via View options.

WorldWide Telescope observes the night sky in real-time (which is awesome) however there are controls that let you move backward or forward as well as pausing at any given moment.

There are so many features in WorldWide Telescope that it would be hard for me to go through them all tonight in this post. Give WorldWide Telescope a try yourself and let me know what you think. And if anyone has any suggestions for ASCOM-capable Telescopes I might go out and buy that might work with WorldWide Telescope – let me know!