August 24, 2007 The world is not enough for Google Earth. The groundbreaking free application already provides satellite photos, maps, street-level photos and a vast range of data overlays for most of the planet, and its latest incarnation looks to the heavens as well. A fantastic resource for backyard astronomers, the new Sky module lets users explore the planets, stars, constellations and galaxies of the night sky, including high resolution highlights from the Hubble Space Telescope and useful information overlays.
Google Earth recently announced that its latest version includes a new module called Sky that enables all Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. High resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualizing and learning about space.
To access Sky, users need only click "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth, or click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar. The interface and navigation are similar to that of standard Google Earth steering, including dragging, zooming, search, "My Places," and layer selection.
As part of the new feature, Google is introducing seven informative layers that illustrate various celestial bodies and events:
Constellations - From Cassiopeia to Andromeda, the Constellations layer connects the points of constellations through space, labeling each with its given name. Users can learn about the stars that make up their favorite constellations.
Backyard Astronomy - The Backyard Astronomy layer lets users click through a variety of placemarks and information on stars, galaxies, and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes. This layer is useful for the amateur astronomer who may benefit from a comprehensive, organized way to reference fragments of the night sky.
Hubble Space Telescope Imagery - The HST layer provides users with over 120 high-resolution images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA/ESA's renowned orbiting telescope.
Moon - The Moon layer displays animations of two months of both lunar positions and moon phases.
Planets - The Planets layer illustrates the seven official planets and their positions in the sky two months into the future.
Users Guide to Galaxies - The Users Guide to Galaxies layer enables users to go on virtual tours through different types of galaxies, from Ursa Minor Dwarf to the Milky Way.
Life of a Star - The Life of a Star layer takes the user on a tour through the different stages of a star's life cycle.
Sky was created by Google's Pittsburgh engineering team by stitching together imagery from numerous scientific third parties including the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the Digital Sky Survey Consortium (DSSC), CalTech's Palomar Observatory, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), and the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO). The initiative was born out of the University of Washington's participation in the Google Visiting Faculty Program, which makes it possible for leading academic researchers to visit Google for 6-12 month periods.
"We're excited to provide users with rich astronomical imagery and enhanced content that enables them to both learn about what they're seeing above and tell their own stories," said Lior Ron, Google Product Manager. "By working with some of the industry's leading experts, we've been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope."
"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, former astronaut and CEO of Sally Ride Science. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."
"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available. Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens. Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer," said Dr. Carol Christian of STScI, who co-led the organization's Sky team with Dr. Alberto Conti.
The announcement follows last month's inclusion of the NASA layer group in Google Earth, showcasing NASA's Earth exploration. The group has three main components, including Astronaut Photography of Earth, Satellite Imagery, and Earth City Lights. Astronaut Photography of Earth showcases photographs of the Earth as seen from space from the early 1960s on, while Satellite Imagery highlights Earth images taken by NASA satellites over the years and Earth City Lights traces well-lit cities across the globe.
To access Sky in Google Earth, users need to download the newest version of Google Earth, available at: http://earth.google.com. The feature will be available on all Google Earth domains, in 13 languages.