The amazing Worldwide Telescope

Wow!

I downloaded the Worldwide Telescope today and I’m totally transfixed.  no wonder the press has been raving about it so much.

The mission of the WWT is twofold:

  • To aggregate scientific data from major telescopes, observatories and institutions and make temporal and multi-spectral studies available through a single cohesive Internet–based portal.
  • To re-awaken the interest for science in the younger generations through astronomy and new technologies through the virtual observatory of the WWT. This also provides a wonderful base for teaching astronomy, scientific discovery, and computational science.

When you install it, your computer turns into a virtual telescope so you can roam around the constellations.  You can pan and zoom around the night sky – just like you were in space – try visiting the Orion constellation and having a browse around.  Right click on something and find out the name of the star, its Right Ascension, RA – distance in degrees from the first point of Aries, Declination – DEC (Angle in degrees from the celestial equator),  Altitude (apparent height) and Azimuth (bearing)

My favourite constellation (and the easiest to find in the UK) is the Plough (Ursa Major).  When I first learned to identify each star in the constellation (I needed to learn them for my celestial navigation class when I was at sea).  I learned that Mixar, or Mizar as it’s sometimes known, is actually a binary star, 2 stars that slowly rotate around each other like a set of dumbbells whirling around in space, bound together by the gravity that joins them (a bit like the pairing that keeps the Moon in orbit around the Earth).    I used to be able to see these 2 stars, but with my failing aged eyes, it’s hard to see them – even with binoculars. But now, with the zoom ability in this amazing tool, Mizar and Alcor are there. whirling around each other – have a look at this.

image

It’s the 2nd star in from the handle of the plough if you want to go and have a look for yourself.

Microsoft Research is dedicating WorldWide Telescope to the memory of Jim Gray and is releasing WWT as a free resource to the astronomy and education communities with the hope that it will inspire and empower people to explore and understand the universe like never before.

What a great sentiment….