Navigating Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft's new WorldWide Telescope (WWT) uses Microsoft's Virtual Experience Engine to combine images from various telescopes and observatories into a seamless panorama of the night sky. Launched Monday, the brainchild of Microsoft's research department is a downloadable desktop application that brings the universe to your home computer. (Source

Forget Google Earth, the WWT combines images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the Two Micron All Sky Survey. Users can investigate the night sky in several different ways. You can pan, zoom and enjoy 360 degree panoramas of different planets or galaxies. The program allows users to view the sky from different points in the past, or in the future. The application also shows space though different light wavelengths, such as x-ray. In addition, users can choose to navigate with their preferred telescope. (Source

The sky is a big place, so if you don't want to go it alone you can solicit the help of an experienced professional. Astronomers and educators take you on pre-recorded guided tours, such as 'Center of the Milky Way', 'Dust and Us,' and 'Earth @ Night'. You can try them out on the website.

Aside from the cool factor, the WWT project has some more serious aims. It's mission plan is to "aggregate scientific data from major telescopes, observatories and institutions" as well as to capture the interest of younger generations.

WWT is a free download from Make sure you have over 1 GB of memory free on your hard drive. However, for the 'off-line' features, Microsoft recommends 10 GB. The same applies for MACs. According to the website, the Mac and PC friendly application takes about an hour to download, so you better get started!

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