Microsoft Research has released the Beta release of their wondrous WorldWideTelescope software. It is another victory in computational freedom for Human Action. Microsoft has integrated many domains of publicly funded data sources in a variety of mediums for presentation via their free software.
All that is required to use this product is a cheap PC and an Internet connection to download the program and connect to the data sources.
The Solar System, our Galaxy and the Universe at large come to life with this sophisticated tool. Microsoft has done for astronomy lovers what Google has done for Map lovers, provided copious data and tools at their expense. Unlike Google the telescope program is not a web interface but a rich fat client thus necessitating a local installation.
The tool comes complete with online video tutorials, tours, samples of destinations, as well as a generalized point-and-click interface to the celestial sphere. Tools are provided for building your own tours of the Universe.
Rather than wax eloquently, I encourage the reader to go to the source where a picture is worth a lot more than a thousand words!
Statist Warning: virtually all of the imagery from here comes from publicly, i.e., tax-funded, sources. The vast majority of these images are single or multi-spectral sensor fusion of light intensity images integrated over various time scales. These are then mapped to false color images giving the spectacular color display. For example if you fly near the crab nebula with your starship it will look a lot like our night sky, white dots against a black expanse. Many of the spectrums are not viewable with human eyes at all (x, gamma, infra-red, ultraviolet). It is only the integration of very large spatial extents over long periods of time that produce the data which is colored artistically for public consumption. Users can even select imaging source in the lower right-hand window of the Microsoft tool for looks at the original data.
Tech Note: if you use Internet Explorer 7 as a browser, click no on any web page errors if they appear.
George Giles [send him mail] is an Independent writer in Nashville, TN.