The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the world’s best ground- and space-based telescopes for the exploration of the universe. WWT blends terabytes of images, information, and stories from multiple sources into a seamless, immersive, rich media experience delivered over the Internet. Students of all ages will feel empowered to explore and understand the cosmos using WWT’s simple and powerful user interface.
The mission of the WWT is twofold:
- To aggregate scientific data from major telescopes, observatories, and institutions and make temporal and multi-spectral studies available through a single, cohesive Internet–based portal
- To stimulate interest in science among younger generations, providing a compelling base for teaching astronomy, scientific discovery, and computational science
How do you start exploring with WTT? Upon first opening the Home screen, you’ll find a dialogue box that tells you how to navigate in the WorldWide Telescope. Follow these instructions, and then, after you’re familiar with the controls and features, click the Guided Tours tab. Now you can choose from a growing number of guided tours created by astronomers and educators from famous observatories and planetariums. For example, you can join Harvard astronomer Alyssa Goodman on a journey that shows how dust in the Milky Way Galaxy condenses into stars and planets. Or you can accompany University of Chicago cosmologist Mike Gladders two billion years into the past to view a gravitational lens bending the light from galaxies – a phenomenon that allows you to see billions more years into cosmic history. Feel free to pause a tour at any time and explore on your own – you can later re-enter the tour where you left off.
Utilizing the Microsoft® high performance Visual Experience Engine™, WorldWide Telescope allows you explore the universe as never before. It enables you to seamlessly pan the sky and to zoom in on celestial features, including stars, nebulae, and planets. For every object, you’ll find multiple information sources at your fingertips, just a mouse click away.
To understand the full power of WWT, bear in mind that celestial objects radiate energy over an extremely wide range of wavelengths, from radio waves to infrared, optical to ultraviolet, even x-rays and even gamma rays. The physical processes inside these objects can only be understood by combining observations at several wavelengths, and herein lies the beauty of WWT. It brings together many impressive archives of celestial objects – collections painstakingly constructed from observations by such instruments as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).
While each of these archives carries interesting and important information about the nature of celestial objects, the comprehensive analysis of observations requires combining data from multiple instruments at different wavelengths. WWT facilitates such analyses, providing free, public access to astronomic data from a variety of temporal and multi-spectral studies and literature. With WWT, you’ll view the sky from multiple wavelengths: See the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, then cross-fade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the hydrogen alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures illuminated by high energy radiation from nearby stars in the Milky Way. These are just a few of many different ways to reveal the hidden structures in the universe with the WorldWide Telescope. Pan and zoom from aerial views of the Moon and selected planets, and see their precise positions in the sky from any location on Earth and any time in the past or future.
The data in WWT is not only readily accessible; it is presented in a form that facilitates integrative research, thereby helping to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research, education, and public knowledge. WWT represents a major step toward the democratization of science, and it has turned the Internet into "the world´s best telescope"—a veritable supercomputer at your desktop.
Microsoft Research has dedicated WorldWide Telescope to the memory of Jim Gray, releasing it as a free resource to the astronomy and education communities with the hope that it will inspire and empower people to explore and understand the universe like never before.