Thursday, August 23, 2007

Google Earth aims at the Sky

In the latest release of Google Earth product, version 4.2.0 (beta) you can find a new exciting feature "Sky" hiding behind a small icon representing a galaxy.

I have always been interested in astronomy and this new feature is something I want to have a look at. Like I said, to switch between Earth view to sky click on the icon indicated in screenshot below.

This will show you the sky with constellation lines and their names. I have to say I am really glad to see Latin names and not the English ones.

In the list of layers there is a group called "Backyard Astronomy". Here we have few layers every amateur astronomer would expect - Messier catalog and New General Catalog or NGC for short. Mind you, "new" in NGC means 1888... Here is example of Andromeda galaxy or Messier 31 (NGC 224)

Similar to the view of the Earth you can get more information about the object by clicking on the symbol.

This is all fine and what we would expect as basic capability of any planetarium/sky browsing program. In the next section "Hubble Showcase" we see some really nice stuff. This group is subdivided in 10 section and they also have subsections so it is quite easy to navigate to object of your interest. On the sky view all Hubble objects have a Hubble icon so it is easy to spot them. Here is where you can choose how to view them. You can click on the Hubble symbol and view the information in pop-up window or keep zooming in until you see it as natural part of the sky. The later method is my preferred.

As demonstration of the KML we have "The Moon". Here is what it does:

This is a special time-based KML layer, showing the motion of the Moon across the sky as a function of time (sampled every hour over the course of 3 months).

Information about the Moon for a given time will include percentage of illumination.

This is also used for "The Planets" and the details magnitude and surface brightness.

If you are puzzled with strange shapes of smudges you can see here and there check the "User's Guide to Galaxies". It will show you the basics about the certain type of the galaxy. Specifics of the particular object are accessed in a usual way - click on the red symbol. If you still can't make any sense of it just follow the hyperlinks to Wikipedia.

The last section is the one I was most interested in - "Life of a Star". My idea what could be hiding in here was different from Google people. So what is here? Well, you can see real objects representing different stages in the life cycle of the star. It has only five "stages" while I was hoping for more. It would be nice to see different scenarios, i.e. what happens to a star with mass same as Sun's or if it 25 times larger. Anyway, it is nice to see something like this added here. I'm sure that we will see more of this in near future.

Few final words: Google Earth Sky is not in the class with other well established planetarium programs, but Google is known to invest in development and research and it is part of the Google Earth so you can view the Earth with plenty of images and additional information.

If you like the Sky option check out the Celestia and sites related to it.

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