Ian Moulster's blog

A Microsoft employee translating Microsoft technology into plain English

Peering through the worldwide telescope

Peering through the worldwide telescope

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As you may have heard, we released an initial version of a technology known as the worldwide telescope last month. I’ve been playing around with it for a bit and I’ve got to say it’s fascinating stuff. Geek as I am I grew up with Science Fiction, reading Omni magazine, and generally being interested in all things off planet – which means that a product like this is something I can spend hours exploring.

Now, of course there are other products out there that do similar things. I remember discovering Celestia some years ago and finding it a wonderful thing indeed. I bought a copy of Starry Night Backyard, and found even more depth and wonder. Of course I played with Google Sky when it was released as an addition to Google Earth – and had great enjoyment with it. And there are many others too, so for a mad star-struck person like me all of these applications are goodness, and all bring their own special value and sense of wonder.

So what of the Worldwide Telescope? It truly is something special. Here are some of the things I love about it, and I’ve only really started to scrape the surface:

  • You can enter your location (ie lat and long) and see the night sky in WWT at any time and date you choose. So I sat at home the other night, looking out of my window at the constellations and could see them mirrored on the WWT screen. I could then right click on any of the stars and get more detail – for example, the little fuzzy patch hanging off Orion’s belt is the Orion nebula, a stellar nursery with young, massive hot stars blowing around cosmic dust, with new stars and new planetary systems being born. Zooming in with WWT allows you to see fantastic detail courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope images
  • If you have an appropriate telescope you go one better – hook it up to WWT and it will control the telescope for you so you can look at any object in the night sky as easily as finding it on your screen (I haven’t gone that far yet…)
  • The guided tours are wonderful, some of which are narrated. Scientists guide you through the universe, pointing out interesting features via the WWT
  • You can view the universe via a number of different methods, not just visible light. So to see the galactic centre of the Milky Way for example it’s best to use longwave radio – and WWT allows you to switch to that. Or infrared. Or microwave. Or X-Ray. Or many others.
  • You can view the earth itself in fantastic detail using the aerial photography from Virtual Earth, right in WWT. You can switch to a night view and see population and wealth centres showing up as bright spots of light.

And there is so much more. I have to limit my time in this application because it’s so easy to find hours slipping away.

So if you haven’t explored it yet I very much recommend you take a look. It’s uplifting, fascinating and a really wonderful experience.

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