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Free Google program brings heavens to Earth

Aug. 22, 2007
Courtesy STScI
and World Science staff

Im­ag­ine cruis­ing the heav­ens from your desk­top and see­ing all the spec­tac­u­lar im­ages from the Hub­ble Space Tel­e­scope. Ex­plod­ing stars and far­a­way ga­lax­ies are now just a mouse click away with a new pro­gram, Sky in Google Earth.

It’s “like hav­ing the heav­ens at your fin­ger­tips, or your own plan­e­tar­i­um,” said Car­ol Chris­tian, an as­tron­o­mer at the Space Tel­e­scope Sci­ence In­sti­tute in Bal­ti­more, Md. and co-de­vel­op­er of the proj­ect. The pro­gram is part of the new­est ver­sion of the pop­u­lar Google Earth pro­gram, down­load­able for free at http://earth.google.com.

Users can trav­el across the night sky, mak­ing tou­r stops at 125 of the most pop­u­lar Hub­ble im­ages. Trav­el­ers can beg­in the tour by pick­ing “Switch to Sky” from the “view” drop-down men­u in Goo­gle Earth. 

From he­re, an ob­ject, such as the Ea­gle Neb­u­la—the so-called pil­lars of crea­t­ion—or even a cat­e­go­ry, such as col­lid­ing ga­lax­ies, can be cho­sen. The user then sees a view show­ing the con­stella­t­ions around the se­lected ob­ject. As view­ers zoom in, the con­stella­t­ions dis­ap­pear and the ob­ject emerges from the back­ground. 

The Hub­ble im­ages are set with­in a back­ground of real stars and ga­lax­ies tak­en by two pow­er­ful visible-light sur­veys of the skies, the Dig­i­tized Sky Sur­vey and the Sloan Dig­it­al Sky Sur­vey.


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Imagine cruising the heavens from your desktop and seeing all the spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Exploding stars and faraway galaxies are now just a mouse click away with a new program, Sky in Google Earth. It’s “like having the heavens at your fingertips, or your own planetarium,” said Carol Christian, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. and a developer of the Google project. The program is part of the newest version of the popular Google Earth program, downloadable for free at http://earth.google.com. Users can travel across the night sky, making tour stops at 125 of the most popular Hubble images. Travellers can begin the tour by picking “Switch to Sky” from the “view” drop-down menu in Google Earth. From here, an object, such as the Eagle Nebula—the so-called pillars of creation—or even a category, such as colliding galaxies, can be chosen. Viewers first get a view showing the constellations around the selected object. As users zoom in, the constellations disappear and the object emerges from the background. The Hubble images are set within a background of real stars and galaxies taken by two powerful visible-light surveys of the skies, the Digitized Sky Survey and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.