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Virtual Telescope Adds Mars Experience, 'Terapixel Sky Map'

The WorldWide Telescope, an online virtual telescope operated through a partnership between Microsoft Research and NASA, has been expanded with a new, interactive view of Mars and a spherical sky map that Microsoft described as the "largest and highest-quality spherical image of the sky currently available."

WorldWide Telescope is a freely accessible application--both Web-based and desktop-based--that compiles data from observatories, telescopes, and other sources, merging recorded imagery captured through visible light, x-ray, and other wavelengths to provide a single observational portal for students to explore the universe. It's designed to stimulate interest in astronomy among students and to aid teachers by providing a "compelling base for teaching astronomy, scientific discovery, and computational science," as Microsoft described it. Microsoft partnered with NASA on the WorldWide Telescope back in March 2009.

The new "Mars experience" provides an enhanced view of the surface of the planet, including an interactive "tour," new 3D surface renderings, and a "true color" surface map. Unlike most of the features of the WorldWide Telescope, the new Mars experience requires a free desktop client that runs only on Windows systems.

The new Terapixel sky map was constructed using more than 800 GB of imagery from the Digitized Sky Survey, a project that originated out of the Catalogs and Surveys Group of the Space Telescope Science Institute using data from two ground-based telescopes. It's being made available within the telescope to provide a smoother, more higher resolution view of the sky stitched together to provide "a complete, spherical, panoramic rendering of the night skies that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view," Microsoft said in a statement released this week at its 11th-annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit.

Further information and downloads, including applications, educational materials (such as high school and middle school lesson plans and curriculum guides), and a variety of additional resources, can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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