The other day Microsoft Research released their WorldWide Telescope application. This application uses imagery from a number of telescopes both on earth and in space to provide a way to look at the sky that is very easy and impressive. The navigation is very smooth and easy. You can also zoom in and out using a scroll wheel. I understand that there is a lot of imagery from the Mars rovers there so if you want to look around Mars in some detail you can.

The New York Times had an article about this and I like this quote:

There are many online astronomy sites, but astronomers say the Microsoft entry sets a new standard in three-dimensional representation of vast amounts data plucked from space telescopes, the ease of navigation, the visual experience and features like guided tours narrated by experts.

“Exploring the virtual universe is incredibly smooth and seamless like a top-of-the-line computer game, but also the science is correct,” said Alexander Szalay, a professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins. “No sacrifices have been made. It just feels as if you are in it.”

Getting the science right was important to the researchers who created this. The project leads are amateur astronomers with a serious interest in the topic. The WorldWide Telescope is sort of like having a planetarium on your computer screen. I’ve had a lot of fun using it this week and I expect to use it to help me find things in the night sky to view live as well.

You can also view tours that others have created or even create your own. Also if you are one of those very serious people with a telescope that can be connected and controlled by a computer there is software to connect your telescope to this software see live what you are looking at recorded on the screen. If you have any interest in the night sky at all this is one application you’ll want to install. If you are teaching astronomy I can’t see how you’d want to live without it.