Microsoft's Online Telescope Blasts Google Out Of The Sky

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Microsoft's research division on Tuesday kicked off a public beta of WorldWide Telescope, a rich Web application that lets viewers peer deep into the universe and, perhaps, glimpse parts of the universe where Starbucks coffee shops don't exist.

WorldWide Telescope is Microsoft's answer to Google Sky, the online virtual telescope the search giant unveiled last year.

Powered by a mix of software and Web 2.0 services created with Microsoft's Visual Experience Engine, WorldWide Telescope uses a massive database containing several terabytes of high resolution images of stars, galaxies, and other heavenly bodies. The images come from a variety of space- and Earth-based sources, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Microsoft is offering the WorldWide Telescope free of charge to the educational and astronomical communities as a tribute to Jim Gray, the esteemed Microsoft researcher and database guru who disappeared in January 2007 while sailing off the coast of San Francisco. Gray helped develop SkyServer, the front end for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an ongoing project aimed at making a 3-D map of the universe.

Microsoft in February gave a sneak preview of WorldWide Telescope to attendees at the TED 2008 conference in Monterey, Calif.

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