Internet boss Google unveiled a new feature to its popular Google Earth application on Wednesday, allowing users to view the night sky above and zoom in on far-away constellations and planets.
The Sky application allows users to view and navigate through 100 million stars in far away galaxies, all depicted in high-resolution images.
The application labels which stars make up the constellations, shows users what they might be able to see from their own backyards with the naked eye or small telescopes and includes images from the Hubble space telescope.
It also displays the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets for now and up to two months in the future, offers virtual tours through different galaxies and details the different stages of a star's life cycle.
"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, a former astronaut. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."
Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who helped develop the application, said she hoped the new program would encourage more people to learn about space.
"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," she said.
"Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens," she added
"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."
The interface and navigation of the new feature are similar to those on the current Google Earth function, which allows users to drag, zoom and search their way around the planet.
To access the new feature, users need to download the latest version of Earth, available on the website from Wednesday.
The application was created by Google engineers stitching together images from sources such as the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
Google launched its Earth application in 2005, allowing people to zoom in on satellite images of almost any point around the world. The program has since been downloaded more than 200 million times.
Source : The Sydney Morning Herald