Magazine article Science & Spirit

Googling the Visible Universe

Magazine article Science & Spirit

Googling the Visible Universe

Article excerpt

The "Google Earth" program that offers Internet users satellite maps of the planet has put outer space at the public fingertips as well.

The search engine company, in a deal with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has linked Google to images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which since 1990 has taken the most detailed photographs of the visible universe. The new feature is tailed "Google Sky," and it works on principles familiar to Interact map users.

"It is like having ... your own planetarium," said Carol Christian, an astronomer at NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The institute has built the connection with Google and stores the 125 Hubble telescope images to which users will link. Just as Google Earth zooms in on satellite images of real geography, Google Sky zooms in and out of the visible heavens to locus on particular star constellations, galaxies, or gaseous clouds called nebula.

The public is familiar with many famous Hubble Telescope photographs, said Christian, especially the Eagle Nebula, which some have called "pillars of creation" because new stars are forming in the nebula. Now, she said, the Sky tool shows where the Eagle Nebula sits in the evening sky. "You can see where the objects are located in space, including the constellations in which they reside," she said. "Then you can discover other cool objects in nearby regions of the sky. And you don't have to know anything about astronomy to use the program. …

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