The sky is the limit for users of online virtual-globe program Google Earth as its star-gazing section, Sky, gets new features to turn it into a suitable academic tool for students, amateur astronomers and even scientists.
Google Sky is now using ultra detailed X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet images from NASA observatory satellites, as well as a microwave map of the sky by the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP).
With guided tours and detailed catalogues of the planets, stars, constellations and galaxies, Sky now makes it possible for the beginner astronomer to become knowledgeable and find their way around the night sky from their backyard.
A popular feature of Google Earth is Historical Sky Maps, with maps of how the stars looked and how they were illustrated from as far back as 1792.
Google Earth also introduced the Sky API (Application Programming Interface), which allows developers to create their own unique sky view. This feature has already been used to produce a version of Sky for the iPhone.
Another example is www.heywhatsthat.com, which allows users to type in a location on Google maps and see what the night sky looks like from that position on earth.
This may be the only way to see the stars if you live in a town or city with a smog-filled sky.
By Marie Boran