Microsoft has opened the view finder on its free WorldWide Telescope research project (reported on in Computerworld, April 14) allowing web users to peer into the deep recesses of space through a treasure trove of images.
Microsoft Research calls the project a "Web 2.0 visualisation software environment."
It turns a computer into a virtual telescope by combining tens of millions of images of galaxies, nebulae, planets and other celestial objects.
The terabytes of images were collected from various sources including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).
The telescope is powered by the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine, a technology that enables panning and zooming and the blending of images and data from multiple sources.
Google has a similar online telescope called Google Sky.
Users of the Microsoft online telescope will have to download an application to use the free service, which is an extension of work begun by Jim Gray, a Microsoft Research member and database pioneer who has been missing since his boat disappeared without a trace off the coast of San Francisco in January 2007.
Gray pioneered the development of large-scale, high-performance online databases including SkyServer, which is the foundation of much of the technology used in WorldWide Telescope. Gray also contributed to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project, which focused on mapping a large part of the sky.
WorldWide Telescope is dedicated to the memory of Gray and is named after a paper he wrote in 2001 with Alex Szalay, alumni centennial professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University. The paper, entitled The WorldWide Telescope, was published in Science Magazine and asserted that the concept of an online, virtual observatory was indeed viable.
The WorldWide Telescope is the brainchild of Curtis Wong, principal researcher and head of the Next Media Research Group at Microsoft Research, and his colleague Jonathan Fay.
The service features a number of guided tours conducted by leading astronomers and educators, including Harvard astronomer Alyssa Goodman and University of Chicago cosmologist Mike Gladders.