Thanks in part to a Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist, the final frontier has got a bit closer with the launch of a new internet application that allows people to easily explore the night sky from their own computers.
WorldWide Telescope is an internet application produced by Microsoft that brings together imagery from the best ground- and space-based telescopes across the world, allowing seamless panning and zooming across the heavens. It's free at www.worldwidetelescope.com.
'WorldWide Telescope allows everyone to browse through the solar system, our galaxy and beyond with just a few clicks of a mouse. It puts the universe right there at your fingertips,' Johns Hopkins' Alexander Szalay said.
WorldWide Telescope was made possible in part by Szalay's long collaboration with Microsoft's Jim Gray on the development of large-scale, high performance online databases such as SkyServer and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
Szalay is Alumni Centennial Professor of Astronomy in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins. Gray, a senior Microsoft manager and database pioneer to whom the project has been dedicated, disappeared during a 2007 boat trip and was never found.
A blend of software and Web 2.0 services created with the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine, WorldWide Telescope stitches together terabytes of high-resolution images of celestial bodies, and displays them in a way that relates to their actual position in the sky. People can browse at will or take advantage of guided tours of the sky hosted by astronomers and educators at major universities and planetariums.
But the service goes well beyond the simple browsing of images. Users can choose which telescope they want to look through, including Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer or others. They can view the locations of planets in the night sky - in the past, present or future. They can also view the universe through different wavelengths of light to reveal hidden structures in other parts of the galaxy.