Microsoft Worldwide Telescope brings the universe to your computer

Microsoft doesn’t get a lot of credit for being innovative, but its Microsoft Research lab actually develops a ton of awesome technology. Of particular interest to readers of Geek, is sure to be the Worldwide Telescope project, which Microsoft is undertaking with the help of telescopes all around the world, and even orbiting it. New content is added frequently, most recently data from NASA’s Planck mission. If you’ve never taken a look at this project, now is a great time.

The Worldwide Telescope is an effort to construct a massive map of the universe. Microsoft Research has assembled astronomical data from scientists all over the world to build a 3D model that users can actually fly through. NASA’s Hubble Images are used liberally, and Microsoft hopes to incorporate data from the James Webb Telescope when it launches in a few years. You’ll be able to do flybys of any star, nebula, or planet astronomers have gathered data on.

This is more than just a bunch of pretty images, though. There is real data backing this simulation that makes it useful from the elementary school level, all the way up to graduate studies. It has support for visible light, but also X-ray and infrared observations.

Microsoft Research has also built The Worldwide Telescope with touch interactions in mind. Desktop mouse controls aren’t forgotten, but pinch-zooming is being held up as the best way to use the maps. The product is currently limited to desktops, but a mobile version is expected soon.

Microsoft has created an API that will allow developers and educators to build custom “stellar tours” entirely within The Worldwide Telescope. It can run in a web browser on PC or Mac, but Silverlight is required. There is also a Windows client that can be installed. Maybe not ideal for everyone, but you can’t argue with a free trip across the universe.

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