Today, the WorldWide Telescope gets an update ... a major update. Just have a look at this screenshot...

Saturn as seen in the WorldWide Telescope

That's right - WWT has gone 3D. You can fly through the Solar System now! And keep flying out, out through the hundred thousand stars in the Hipparcos Catalog, out further till you see (a model of) the Milky Way. Many users will be able to zoom even further out and enjoy the beautiful filaments-and-voids structure formed by half a million galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, one of the main projects that Jim Gray – to whom WWT is dedicated – collaborated with astronomers on.

SDSS in WWT

With the 3D mode, you can see how the moon casts a shadow on the earth during a solar eclipse, zoom into Saturn’s rings, and witness just how far from the center of the Milky Way we are. And, yes, you can make tours using this enthralling new mode.

Speaking of tours, they have multi-level undo and animation now – text and inserted images can expand, contract, move, spin, fade, etc within a slide. That makes storytelling a lot easier – and a lot more fun as you try to get just the right effect. When you've installed WWT Equinox, try this Apollo tour (disclaimer: yours truly made it) for an example of a tour with lots of animation. You can also cut and paste from MS Office applications.

WWT is also going worldwide … linguistically. It is now possible for you to create localized versions of WWT. For a start, we’ve done Simplified Chinese during the course of a project with Microsoft Research Asia and the National Astronomical Observatory of China. If you’re an astronomy-savvy user who would like to translate a few hundred strings of English into a different language, please email wwtpage@microsoft.com … we may take a while to get back to you since our small team in the Next Media group of Microsoft Research will be swamped in the next week.

Snapshot of Chinese localized WWT

There’s more data to look at, with hundreds of new images from the Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer space telescopes, as well as from renowned astrophotographer Jack Newton. We also have new surveys in the ultraviolet (GALEX) and gamma-ray (Fermi) domain, as well as an updated set of sixteen surveys about the Cosmic Microwave Background from the WMAP Science Team.

Jack Newton photograph of Orion Nebula

Remember how the WWT Spring Beta had just four panoramas of Mars? We’ve ramped that up – there are now over fifty. Some are even in 3d, so get your red-cyan glasses out! They are mostly from the Cornell Pancams on the NASA/JPL Spirit and Opportunity Rovers, but also from the 2008 Phoenix Lander and the earlier Pathfinder missions. But it’s not just Mars – we’ve got the Moon too, with half a dozen panoramas stitched at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Ames Center from the original Apollo astronauts’ photographs.

Apollo 12 panorama

If you have your own panoramas or photographs that you’re itching to get into WorldWide Telescope, hold on a week or two – we’ll have some simple utilities for you to get your data into WWT. You can, of course, already play with WWT’s inbuilt manual image aligner.

What else? Various bug fixes, check. Also - several features that will only be used by power users, niche users, and users who stumble upon them by accident. Like cone searching with NED (NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database) returning results as VOTables, textures on Saturnian and Uranian moons, Earth globes where you can see polar regions, panoramas of telescopes at Mauna Kea, pressing F11 to enter and leave a full-screen mode where you can revel in the brilliant blackness of pure sky, saving to Desktop wallpaper, changing planet sizes between Actual and Visible, using a Xbox Controller or 3d Connexion Navigator, going to locations defined using coordinate systems other than J2000, and … more.And there are more tours and stories, some of which really showcase WWT’s new touring abilities.

Watch this space for more documentation and tools. You can also start thinking about how you would like to organize your own community – what data would you like to host? How will you moderate data uploaded by others in your community? In the next couple of weeks, we will provide further details and stories about some of the datasets and features you’ll find in this release, so that we can credit the many wonderful people in science, education, and outreach with whom we worked to get this release out to you.

To try it out, please go to the WorldWide Telescope website.

And please send your comments, positive and negative, to wwtpage@microsoft.com - and check out the forums first.

If you're in the press or a blogger, you might find these useful:

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Originally posted by dinos. Migrated to new blog location by derickc.