Astronomy Online

Surfing the night sky

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Slooh, a new web-based astronomy tool, offers users access to high-powered telescopes, providing a portal to the stars.

Unless you live on a mountaintop, miles away from civilization, with a 15-inch-wide telescope at your disposal, you will have a hard time topping the celestial view slooh.com gives you. This new Web service affords users real-time access to four telescopes perched 7,900 feet above sea level on the Canary Islands' Mount Teide. "We wanted to open up astronomy to people for whom the initial setup cost, their location or the base knowledge required was prohibitive," says Michael Paolucci, Slooh's president and founder. And Slooh--a play on "slew," astronomy speak for rotating a telescope--does a pretty good job of meeting this goal.

While more knowledgeable astronomers can schedule solo missions and view whatever they want, those who think "azimuth" is a Harry Potter character can opt for group sorties. These 10-minute tours take Slooh-goers to the most interesting features of that particular night's sky. The site has a video game look to it, with a circular window revealing your celestial view in the center and various controls and bits of data spread about the perimeter. You can capture snapshots, play suitably spacey new-age music or opt for audio narration about what you're seeing. You can also zoom in on features of particular interest and switch between different telescopes. Eventually, users will be able vote on what they want to see, but for now, Slooh's staff astronomers make the call. For $50, you get a year of unlimited group missions and
15 minutes of solo time. For twice that amount, you can stargaze alone for up to 90 minutes. And the best part may be that you don't even need to lose much sleep: The time difference allows stargazing from 5 p.m.
to 1 a.m. EST. Finally, something wholesome for Internet addicts to stare at.