Friday, March 14, 2008

Google Sky, Web Version!

My dream has finally come true! Well, kinda.

Remember when I talked about Sky for Google Earth? I wondered if they'd be making a web Google Maps-like version any time soon. And here it is! Okay, so Google Sky may not be as cool-looking as Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope, but it's already here, it's got features that are actually useful, and it's available to everybody (not just Windows users). Click on an object in the sky to see detailed information about it. You can even view infrared and microwave telescope images (for the real astronomy geeks).

The Historical view is interesting. I was expecting constellations to be shown as line drawings connecting various stellar objects (and they are, just click on the Constellations link at the bottom), but Google's implementation also offers a view of what appears to be an old drawing of the classical constellations. You can change the transparency of the drawing to see a very beautiful hybrid of art and modern astronomy. (Actually, you can change the transparency of any of the optional views, so they're basically just layers; a cool mapping concept that ought to be applied to other Google Maps sister projects).

There are two major things I dislike about this somewhat beta-ish site: First, it's very slow. The slowness of zooming in/out and panning seriously deteriorates the experience, especially when you enable one of the optional layers. My second complaint is the lack of imagery in some places, particularly the Solar System. Yes, you can see a close-up view of the Andromeda Galaxy, but try looking for any of the planets then zooming-in enough to make them bigger than a speck and you'll see a bunch of "No imagery available" tiles.

I guess these limitations as well as other little bugs are expected in a first release, so I'll just wait for the next update. All I know is that I no longer have any urge to download WWTelescope when it finally comes out.