Project lets users explore the cosmos from a PC

Using these software tools reduced the time it took to run one iteration of the image from weeks to hours, making the creation of an image of this size and quality possible for the first time.

The entire process took only six months, said Hey, which is a breakthrough in this type of project. “Since it’s the first time we’ve done it, of course you learn a lot of things, and we’re looking forward to expanding this process,” he said.

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.

The 3D Mars project began in the same vein, with NASA having the data, but needing the technology for presentation.

“3D and the seamlessness are definitely de facto standards of the future,” said Kemp. “Thanks to Microsoft as part of our 2009 Space Act Agreement, the fully interactive images will allow viewers to virtually explore the red planet and make their own scientific discoveries.”

Kemp said new features include a true-color map of Mars, a 3D rendering of the surface of the planet, and exclusive interactive video tours with two noted NASA scientists, Drs. James Garvin and Carol Stoker.

According to Hey, WorldWide Telescope has had 1.4 million downloads in the last year, with the site receiving between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visitors per day.

The site can also be translated into simplified Chinese, German, and Spanish.

Hey explained that, although astronomy and science are currently the Telescope’s main focus, Microsoft soon hopes to use the same technology for the humanities.

“We’d like to soon be able to offer 3D, seamless representations of geography, earth sciences, and much more,” he said, with the help of Microsoft’s many partners in research fields and with universities.

Kemp concluded: “For NASA, it’s really about the collaboration. You wouldn’t believe how many times students and universities have identified or discovered what we haven’t. Just by giving people access to information, we can begin a truly mutually beneficial relationship.”