Any ‘Star Trek’ fan knows that space travel is not always easy, but Microsoft Corp. wants to make travelling the “final frontier” as simple as turning on your computer. It has launched a free software application called WorldWide Telescope 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 faraway star systems and rarely-seen space dust in breathtaking clarity. A test version of the software is available for download at ‘http://www.worldwidetelescope.org’. Microsoft said it will release the WorldWide Telescope free of charge as a tribute to Jim Gray, a Microsoft researcher who went missing off the coast of California while sailing last year. Gray worked on projects with astronomers to organize the vast amounts of data and images being pulled from satellites. The software allows users to develop their own guided tours of the universe to share with others or take part in a guided tour created by astronomy experts.