Graphic Searches Expand From The Earth To Include Heavens :: Oblate Spheroid
A couple of years ago, the ability to search the surface of the Earth with a graphic window was introduced and became all the rage. One could ask the search tool to take them to a particular location and up would pop a satellite photographic view of that specific place here on the Oblate Spheroid. If the location was a home address or business, the photo even detailed the cars that might have been parked around the area when the photo was taken. Amazing.
This last week, one of the more popular of these search tools, Google Earth, introduced a version that allows one to escape the confines of this little orb and explore the heavens around us. For additional graphic information on a particular object (planet, star, galaxy) this tool utilizes images captured by the Hubble telescope. This, along with search tools offered through other web portals, is a great way to introduce oneself and explore the worlds outside of this world!
Item from Webware Weekley -
A brief guide to the heavens on your PC: Google Earth and more
By Rafe Needleman – August 22, 2007, 2:32 PM PDT
Google just launched a new version of Google Earth (news, download) from which you gaze up from the surface of the planet, not just down on it. It's a good way to see which stars and planets are over your home, right now. You can also check out a rich database of Hubble Space Telescope images that is overlaid on the celestial map.
The new Google Earth has a lot of additional education and reference material linked to it, pulled in from the Net as needed. The program is a great way to learn about the night sky. It has two big limitations, though: your point of view is limited to Earth (you can't see the stars from other locations) and you have an extremely limited control of time. If you want to see where the planets were on your birthday, for example, you can't.If your curiosity about the universe bumps into Google Earth's edges, I'd recommend also checking out these two applications:
Celestia (download) is a 3D simulation of the galaxy. Its special power is not its imagery (Google's is better, although Celestia does a good job with planets and asteroids in our solar system), but rather that you can zoom in on any object in the program's database and see the galaxy from that perspective. You can also see the position of stars at any point in time and can control the rate of time's passage to see how objects move over the millennia.
Stellarium (download) is a gorgeous planetarium for your computer. Its sky and star visuals are a lot more compelling then either Google's or Celestia's, although Stellarium does not have detailed Hubble overlays. Like Google, it's Earth-bound (you can't move your point of reference), but like Celestia, it gives you good control over time so you can see the heavens wheel about. My favorite feature is that it will also overlay constellation lines from other cultures (Chinese, Inuit, and so on); Google only shows the Western constellations.
There are also Web-based online planetaria. They have good data, but they don't give you the smooth visual controls that the downloadable applications do. See Sky-map.org, WikiSky (review), and YourSky. You can control a powerful stargazing telescope yourself via the Web at the pay site Slooh (review). There are also astronomy gadgets covered over on our gadget blog, Crave.
Finally, if the real galaxy doesn't appeal to you, check out the collaborative work of fiction called Galaxiki. Be advised that it was named one of the "Five stupidest start-ups of the summer" by Valleywag.