New Google Earth service is out of this world

22 Aug 2007

Not content with mapping the Earth warts and all, Google has developed a new feature that allows users of Google Earth to view the sky as seen from terra firma.

The new tool – entitled Sky – allows Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies with high-resolution imagery and information overlay to teach users about space.

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).

“We’re excited to provide users with rich astronomical imagery and enhanced content that enables them to both learn about what they’re seeing and tell their own stories,” said Lior Ron, product manager at Google.

“By working with some of the industry’s leading experts, we’ve been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope.”

The new service allows users to check out constellations from Cassiopeia to Andromeda and a feature called Backyard Astronomy lets users click through a variety of place-marks and information on stars, galaxies and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes.

A Hubble Space Telescope – NASA and the European Space Agency’s renowned orbiting telescope – layer provides the user with over 120 high-resolution images and a moon layer displays animations of two months of both lunar positions and moon phases.

A planets layer exhibits seven other official plants and their positions in the sky two months into the future.

Google’s own Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Universe – its User Guide to Galaxies – enables users to go on virtual tours through different types of galaxies from Ursa Minor Dwarf to the Milky Way and a Life of a Star feature takes the user on a tour of the different stages of a star’s life cycle.

To access the new feature users will need to download the newest version of Google Earth.

By John Kennedy