Google Earth reaches for the stars
By Stuart Turton
Posted on 22 Aug 2007 at 13:34
Google Earth is moving beyond the confines of our planet to explore the rest of the universe.
Using the Sky function users of Google Earth will now be able to pick a point on the Earth and look upwards for a view of the night sky from that location, whether it be a backyard in London or a dune in the middle of the Sahara.
Employing Google Earth's traditional tools, users will be able to search for specific planets and click for further images and information, including high resolution images captured by the Hubble telescope.
Google reckons there are around 20,000 searchable stars and constellations, with around 100 million viewable in total.
The company claims the software will overcome the frustration of inner-city amateur astronomers. "When was the last time you had a clear night in London to see the stars?" asks Ed Parsons, Google's geospatial technologist. "If you live in an urban environment you also have to put up with light pollution. It's difficult for the man in the street to get into astronomy."
At first glance the software looks set to become a significant competitor to existing commercial products such as Starry Night and Red Shift, but Google is keen to point out that this is not its intention. "We're not trying to compete with commercial products," says Parsons. "We're not going to get into how many millions of stars do you have. This is a stepping stone [for astronomy beginners]."
Google Earth lacks many of the more sophisticated features of the commercially available software. There's no advanced predictive technology for monitoring star movements, nor any option to control computerised telescopes with the Google software. Yet, experts still claim it has its advantages. "Sometimes I would prefer to go here to find something quickly than in Starry Night," says Professor Francisco Diego from the astronomy department of University College London.
In fact, Professor Diego envisions Google Sky becoming an "astronomical YouTube", a place where professional and amateur astronomers could easily share their own photographs and insights without becoming lost in a mass of disparate websites.
To experiment with the Sky functionality, users must download the latest version of the software from the Google Earth website.
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