New Virtual Telescope Online

Microsoft Research develops free, Web-based software for exploring and learning more about the universe

WorldWide Telescope

A screenshot from Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope program shows part of the Andromeda Galaxy.Microsoft Research

After much anticipation, Microsoft Research today released a new, free online tool designed to open up the world of astronomy to the masses. Microsoft describes the WorldWide Telescope as a "Web 2.0 Visualization Software Environment" - but don't worry, the tool is easier to use than it is to define.

It's basically a virtual telescope that allows you to explore the deep sky, and some of the most interesting spots in the universe. You can opt for guided tours, conducted by astronomers or teachers, or check things out on your own. The imagery is compiled from a range of top space- and ground-based observatories, and the tools allow you to switch spectrum mid-stream, so you can see what certain regions or objects look like in different wavelengths.

Check it out, and let us know how you think it stacks up to Google Sky.