WorldWide Telescope: Equinox Release

WorldWide Telescope (WWT), the downloadable software from Microsoft Research which lets you explore the universe, has certainly lived up to its pre-launch hype. As of today, the WWT has 1.5 million active users – that’s not downloads, mind you, but people actively using the software on a regular basis. If you’re not one of those users yet, you’re definitely going to want to check out the WWT now. The latest release includes double the amount of data that the former version offered and has added a ton of new features like Universe View, a 3D Solar System, animated tours, and more.

This new version of WWT, dubbed the “Equinox Release,” was unveiled at PDC where it was demonstrated to the crowd. However, you can’t truly grasp the power and marvel of this software until you try it for yourself…especially now that it has gone 3D!

In the Equinox edition of WWT, you can explore our solar system in 3D. That means you can float through the rings of Saturn, spin around the moons of Jupiter, watch the shadows the moon casts on the Earth during an eclipse, and even see just how far we are from the center of the Milky Way.

saturn

You can record tours of this 3D Solar System, too, using WWT’s feature which lets you author guided looks at parts of the universe using voiceovers, slides, text, and images. The difference is that now, those tours can be animated. Text and inserted images can spin, expand, contract, fade, move, etc. within a slide. Want to see an example?  Try this Apollo tour created by Dinoj Surendran, a Data Curator at WWT.

Also, thanks to the 2008 Phoenix Lander mission, there are more panoramas of Mars now. You’ll find those combined with the Cornell Pancams on the NASA/JPL Spirit and Opportunity Rovers and the Pathfinder missions. Some are also in 3D.

mars2

In addition to Mars, there is new data that includes hundreds of new images from the Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer space telescopes, as well as from renowned astrophotographer Jack Newton. There are also new surveys in the ultraviolet (GALEX) and gamma-ray (Fermi) domain, an updated set of sixteen surveys about the Cosmic Microwave Background from the WMAP Science Team, and panoramas stitched at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Ames Center from the original Apollo astronauts’ photographs. And if that’s not enough data for you, you can upload your own using some of the WWT’s provided utilities.

apollo12pano

The update also includes some bug fixes and features for power users (like cone searching with NED (NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database) returning results as VOTables, textures on Saturnian and Uranian moons,  Earth globes where you can see polar regions,  panoramas of telescopes at Mauna Kea). But there are some features for casual users like myself, too. These include a full-screen mode that I can enter and leave using F11 and the ability to save the screen I’m viewing as Desktop Wallpaper (sweet!).

You can download the WWT from here.

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