Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, launched a free software application called WorldWide Telescope on Monday that allows everyone from space novices to astronomy professors to easily explore galaxies, star systems and distant planets.
The WorldWide Telescope stitches together 12 terabytes, the data equivalent of 2.6 billion pages of text, of pictures from sources including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
The experience is similar to playing a video game, allowing users to zoom in and out of galaxies that are thousands of light years away. It allows seamless viewing of far-away star systems and rarely-seen space dust in breathtaking clarity.
A test version of the software is available for download at www.worldwidetelescope.org.
Microsoft archrival Google Inc also has its eyes to the skies. Google Sky started as an extension of space data and images into Google Earth before eventually unveiling a version that can be used through a Web browser. Google’s version is also free.