I recently received a link to Microsoft Research’s World Wide Telescope – www.worldwidetelescope.org. According to the user guide:
“The WorldWide Telescope is a software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—combining terabytes of imagery from such famous telescopes as Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer into one vast panorama of the universe.
WorldWide Telescope allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky, our Solar System, and other space-orientated panoramas, such as the pictures taken of the surfaces of the Moon and Mars. Explore the sky at multiple wavelengths: see the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then cross-fade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the Hydrogen Alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures lit up by the high energy radiation coming from nearby stars in the Milky Way.
For a dazzling educational experience, our Solar System is modeled in three dimensions, with the planets rotating and orbiting the Sun. Watch the majestic beauty of Saturn’s rings or the distant orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto as they track across the sky in their accurately modeled days and years. Accelerate the simulated time to plan a visit to the best spot for the next solar or lunar eclipse. ” (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Research\Microsoft WorldWide Telescope\Help\UserGuidePages\WorldWideTelescopeUserGuide.html)
There are a number of guided tours, including one that is specifically designed for educators, that will help you get acquainted with the program. One of the most interesting features is the option to connect your own telescope to your computer. “It is possible to control and track a physical telescope connected directly to your computer with a USB cable. With everything working correctly it is possible to both move the view of the physical telescope and have WorldWide Telescope mimic the movements and display the virtual view, or to change the view within WorldWide Telescope and have the physical telescope’s motor drive change its position and display the actual view. In order to do this the physical telescope must work with the ASCOM Platform software.” (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Research\Microsoft WorldWide Telescope\Help\UserGuidePages\TheTelescopeMenu.html)
For those of you who have an interest in exploring outer space, this looks like a great way to get there without having to leave your computer chair!