Today Google released a new version of Google Earth, version 4.2, which includes a cool new feature called Google Sky. You can basically toggle between views – looking downward, then looking upward from the exact same lat/long coordinates for a view of the night sky. A toggle button now appears on the toolbar that allows you to switch views.
I haven’t had a chance to explore this very much, but the view does appear to be time sensitive. The time of day you click the button determines what you see overhead. The view below is what one would see if standing in my yard (assuming it weren’t mid-afternoon and that Haywood Mall’s lights didn’t obliterate the stars.)
Google Sky uses actual astronomical photographs to create its image of the heavens, similar to the satellite imagery used in it’s terristrial counterpart. As with Google Earth, there are layers that can be turned on and off. These include Hubble telescope layers, and other points of interest for astronomy. One can also add placemarks, polygons and overlays. You can toggle constellations on or off, as well as information about the moon and the solar system.
Navigation takes a bit of getting used to. You’re looking at the dome of the stars, rather than a relatively flat map. Google Sky uses the equatorial coordinate system (declination, right ascension) for location, rather than lat/long. You can also zoom further out into the stars (to a certain point.)
Google Sky also includes a search function. Type in M31 and you will be taken to the Andromeda Galaxy. For that matter, typing in "Andromeda Galaxy" will accomplish the same thing.
I suspect that Google Sky’s main audience is going to be educators and amateur astronmers. There isn’t quite the practical appeal of the terrestrial version of the program, such as being able to locate one’s house. For most users, it’s not going to be as intuitive as Google Earth either. Regardless, it’s still a great addition to the growing Google Earth environment, and I look forward to learning how to use it more effectively.
[tags]Google Sky, Google Earth, astronomy[/tags]