Google “Sky”—New Virtual Telescope Using NASA Hubble Images Plans to Turn Millions into Stargazers

Popular mapping service Google Earth is launching a new feature called Sky, a "virtual telescope" that will allow millions of Internet users to become full-fledged stargazers. Supernovas and the most remote, ancient galaxies are now just a mouse click away through Sky in Google Earth.

The old Google Earth gave Internet users an “astronaut's view” that can zoom in all the way to street level. Google says the new service also provides a reversed outlook that will let us look out into space in the opposite direction—giving user’s an “astronomer’s view”, as well. The hope is to turn millions of Internet users into stargazers by giving them a fun ‘playground’ for discovering not just our earth, but the entire universe.

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," said Dr. Carol Christian an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, who co-led the institutes's Sky team.

"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."

"You have seen the Hubble images of objects such as the Eagle Nebula, the so-called pillars of creation," said Christian. "With Sky in Google Earth you can see where the objects are located in space, including the constellations in which they reside. Then you can discover other cool objects in nearby regions of the sky. And you don't have to know anything about astronomy to use the program."

Similar to Google Earth, Sky will enable users to float and zoom in on over 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. Users will view the sky as seen from earth.

The backyard astronomy layer lets users click through stars, galaxies and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes. Users can also delve into deeper layers, which will show the life of a star, constellations, and high-rez images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope along with a “users guide to galaxies”.

The imagery was compiled from numerous third parties including the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre and the Anglo-Australian Observatory. The imagery will be updated over time as new visual discoveries come to light.

"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 Google Product Manager Lior Ron in a statement.

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

Google Earth soon became a hit after launching in June 2005 to combine its search service with satellite imagery, maps and 3D building to display the world’s geographical information.

According to Google, over 250 million people have already downloaded it.

The Sky service will soon be available on all Google Earth domains, in 13 languages. Users will need to download the newest version of Google Earth, which can be found at

It’s hard not to hate Google sometimes. It’s easy to get jealous of the company’s unbridled success—not to mention how their employees get free gourmet meals, while the rest of us are eating 3 day old leftovers. But when something like “Sky” comes along—you just have to hand it to them—they come up with some pretty cool ideas. Rock on, Google. Rock on.

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