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Exploring the Sky on the Web

Story by
Nancy Joseph
Astronomers Simon Krughoff (left) and Andrew Connolly have spent the past year working on Sky at Google Earth, a new feature of Google Earth.

Astronomers Simon Krughoff (left) and Andrew Connolly have spent the past year working on Sky at Google Earth, a new feature of Google Earth.  Media credit: Nancy Joseph

To see a section of the night sky with clarity, your best bet is your computer.

Sky in Google Earth, a new feature for users of Google Earth, enables users to zoom in on a view of the sky over any point in the world and explore hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies. Additional information about each object’s history or nature is available by clicking on the object.

The initiative for Sky in Google Earth was born out of the UW’s participation in the Google Visiting Faculty Program, which makes it possible for leading academic researchers to visit Google for six- to twelve-month periods. The technical lead for the development of Sky is Andrew Connolly, who recently joined the UW faculty as an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy.

“Google’s ability to organize and share information, together with the extraordinary images collected by the latest generation of sky surveys, provided us with a unique opportunity,” says Connolly, who spent seven years at the University of Pittsburgh before taking on the Sky project in May 2006. The Sky development team also includes Simon Krughoff, who joined the UW Department of Astronomy as a research associate this year. 

Sky was created by stitching together imagery from numerous scientific third parties including the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (of which the UW is a founding member), the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, CalTech’s Palomar Observatory, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre, and the Anglo-Australian Observatory.

“Sky is more than just a way to explore the universe,” says Krughoff. “It is a way to share information and ideas among people spread across the globe.” 
Connolly and Krughoff are working to add more astronomical data to Sky in Google Earth, to provide a view of the universe at many different wavelengths. They will continue to develop these and other features, incorporating a variety of astronomy data from around the world.