Google has released Google Sky which can be accessed through your browser. At the home page, icons for the Solar System, Constellations, Hubble Showcase, Backyard Astronomy, Chandra X-ray Showcase, GALEX Ultraviolet Showcase, Spitzer Infrared Showcase and Earth & Sky Podcasts are available. The Podcasts aren’t yet populated, so this feature is apparently “under construction.”

Casseiopeia

The program displays the right ascension and declination of where your mouse is at on screen. The two figures help locate objects in the sky.

I tried the overlay feature while looking at the Solar System. Three overlays are available: Infrared, Microwave and Historical. The overlays have a slider bar where you can vary the strength of the overlay image. The first two are self-explanatory; you can see the object against the infrared or cosmic microwave background signature of the sky. The historical overlay is interesting but puzzling. It appears to depict an orbital path against a background of ancient images. Perhaps this is some sort of zodiac related information. I’ll have to keep looking it over.

Some of the images were not available at certain zoom levels and some of the screen redraws took a bit longer than I thought necessary. This could be a function of my computer which isn’t all that old, so I’m not sure. Still, the constellations are really interesting. The Spitzer Infrared images were nice. The Messier 104 galaxy could be zoomed in closely. It’s neat to play with the images to see how they look.

Arstechnica has an article on the new Google Sky with a ‘Top 10’ list of best images to look at. All in all it’s a nice beginning to bring to us amateur astronomers a nice tool which we can use to explore the sky.

*Cassiopeia image credit: NASA/CXC/MIT/UMass Amherst/M.D.Stage et al. 

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