Do you want to go boldly where noone has gone before? Would you like to make the journey without leaving your computer? Microsoft has just launched WorldWide Telescope, a free online space telescope which, to quote Bill Gates, “is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe.”
WorldWide Telescope is a free downloadable application that turns your Windows XP/Vista computer into a virtual telescope, accessing on the back end 12 terabytes of data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Through a dynamic user interface you can zoom and pan, taking your own vi rtual journey through space. Alternatively, you could take a guided trip by following one of the hosted interactive narrated tours. Look at our own planet from a variety of positions, using data from Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Take a virtual trip into deep space, flying past Mercury, or past Pluto. The possibilities are limited only by your own imagination. Oh, and having an XP or Vista PC. Mac users may want to check out Google Sky.
With NASA’s plan to land a manned mission on Mars at least 25 years in the future, the crew and support teams may be now enrolled in elementary school, or maybe even younger. We should take advantage of the opportunity to capture the imagination of future Mars astronauts at this young age, and to fuel their fascination for space travel. What better way than to show them the potential than to share some time showing them the mapped universe? Carl Sagan wrote that all civilizations either become spacefaring or extinct. With WorldWide Telescope, we can all go spacefaring from the comfort of our computer screens.
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