Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be on NPR talking with Dave Meyer about the lack of innovation in technology today. Before that hits the air, let me carve out an exception for both the Google Sky and Microsoft WorldWide Telescope products.

On Google’s side: they did it first (or finished it first), it opens in a browser with no installation, and it’s cool.

On Microsoft’s side: the database seems to be much larger, the images don’t almost always run out of depth after a few zooms, and there is much more detail available for a given star, galaxy, location.

Curtis Wong, in charge of the latter, was kind enough to come up to the Beach Palace Hotel today to help install the beta on my system (it turned out that I had a .Net update issue, totally separate, which remains unsolved, which was the problem).

Curtis ran WWT on his MacPro, and on my PA’s HP running Vista, with almost no problems.

What is it? A complete (many survey) stitched-together map of the universe, available in various wavelengths, from many distances (i.e., resolutions, exposure times and telescope/camera combinations), which allow the user to appear to seamlessly look (or travel from) anywhere on Earth throughout the heavens.

Who needs acid?

In fact, Who needs a telescope?

This is such an amazing integration feat that it is difficult to grasp at first. Want to see the InfraRed profile of any part of the universe, at any depth? Sure. Want to fade into the visual, and then into the radio wavelengths? OK.

For someone who has toiled going back and forth from one thing to another, the ease of this transition is simply stunning. What yesterday would have taken weeks of time and a small staff to accomplish, now happens with a cursor click.

For the young, the idea of looking into the heavens will no longer be tantamount to looking at a 2D sheet of white lights. For the first time, kids can see and appreciate the color, depth, variety and dynamism of the living universe, all in a matter of seconds. You won’t be surprised I recommended to Curtis that he propose WWT to the Project Inkwell Working Group on Content and Software, for inclusion in K12 learning environments.

It’s time for kids to learn about the stars – adults, too.

Participants in FiRe 2008 will have a chance to meet Curtis, and to see WWT in all its glory – in an even greater version than has been shown to date. Be there, or be square.

And thank you, Curtis; innovation is alive and well at Microsoft Research.

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