Microsoft launches the Worldwide telescope

A cute little technology from Microsoft made Tech Celebrity Robert Scoble shed tears. TED has a full preview of the Worldwide Telescope, the space version of Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The WWT, which will be launched in Spring 2008 and will coincide with the International Year of Astronomy, seamlessly joins together thousands of high definition images of the universe and allows users to navigate around without delays.

The project was spearheaded by the late Jim Gray in a paper published back in September 2001 where he described the internet as a powerful tool to bring about 'a World-Wide telescope' (PDF Document here).

Cynics will argue that other similar technologies like Wikisky.org and Celestia already exist. Even Google has a feature in its Google Earth called "Sky in Google Earth" which allows you to zoom around the heavens from a particular point on Earth.

But none are as impressive as Microsoft's Worldwide Telescope due to the sheer amount of data that it can process and the fact that you can create your own narrations and tours

It is not clear whether the WWT will be available only as a download or as an online service, in which case, they will almost certainly use the impressive Seadragon technology and the equally stunning Photosynth.

Microsoft has also brought in its Visual Experience Engine which allows real-time panning and zooming, as shown at TED by Dr. Roy Gould, an astrophysicist from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics.

Gould mentions that the system itself is easy to manoeuvre and that using the scroll function, you can go all the way back to 'shortly' after the big bang.

Other astronomical tools and services that you can explore include the wonderful Stellarium, Nasa's own World Wind and Neave's flash based Planetarium.