In a project that aims to pull a new generation of students toward science and technology, Microsoft and NASA have teamed up to create what they say is the largest seamless, spherical map ever made of the night sky, as well as a true-color, high-resolution map of Mars that users can explore on their computers in 3D. The mission, Microsoft and NASA say, is to inspire today’s students and spark interest in the STEM fields, and it appears to be
working: In studying photos of Mars taken by a NASA spacecraft, a group of seventh graders in California earlier this year discovered a previously unknown cave, as well as lava tubes that NASA scientists hadn’t noticed.
“What we’re trying to do at NASA is make our data more accessible,” said Chris Kemp, chief technology officer for NASA, “and we’re doing that by connecting students in the classroom and at home to a user-friendly platform.” Called Terapixel, the night sky project is now available for viewing with Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope, a free, web-based program that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from ground and space-based telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe. Created with Microsoft’s Visual Experience Engine, it enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky, blending terabytes of images, data, and stories from multiple sources over the internet into a single, immersive experience. “The U.S. really needs to get re-stimulated by science,” said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft External Research, “and we’re trying to do that by providing full access, in a visually stunning and understandable way, to astronomers’ data and research.” http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/Home.aspx