Microsoft and NASA have teamed up to create what they say is the largest seamless, spherical map ever made of the night sky and a high-resolution map of Mars that users can explore on their computers in 3D. It is hoped that the project will entice a new generation of students toward science and technology.
The mission is to inspire today’s students and spark interest in the STEM fields, and it appears to be working: In studying photos of Mars taken by a NASA spacecraft, a group of seventh graders in California earlier this year discovered a previously unknown cave, as well as lava tubes that NASA scientists hadn’t noticed.
“What we’re trying to do at NASA is make our data more accessible,” said Chris Kemp, chief technology officer for NASA, in an interview with eSchool News, “and we’re doing that by connecting students in the classroom and at home to a user-friendly platform.”
Called Terapixel, the night sky project is now available for viewing with Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope, a free, web-based program that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from ground and space-based telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe. It enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky, blending images, data, and stories from multiple sources over the internet into an immersive experience.
The night sky project, as well as the Mars 3D project, began 50 years ago as photos were taken of the night sky by ground-based survey telescopes. Over five decades, thousands of images were taken by NASA and stored with the Digitized Sky Survey. The challenge then became: How can scientists take these various images and make them into a single, unified image for exploring via computer?
The WorldWide Telescope’s Night Sky view is also available using Bing’s street view feature, allowing users to look up at the night sky from a particular area on the map. Inside Bing Maps, users first need to click on “Map Apps” and select WorldWide Telescope to enable the program.
The app is not just for identifying constellations and planets, as the menu allows users to load all data from sky surveys, the Hubble Telescope, and other astronomy data sources.
And while we are on the subject, have a look at Space Exploration - The Shuttle. If you're after some presentations for primary age staudents have a look at Space, Stars, Galaxy and Solar System.