The WorldWide Telescope is a software tool, available from May 12, 2008 in beta version, as a free download from Microsoft Corp., which gives access to the general public to imagery from some of the finest ground- and space-based observatories. In the words of Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates: "The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe. By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe."
The application is a blend of software and Web 2.0 services created with the Microsoft's Visual Experience Engine, which allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky with rich image environments. WorldWide Telescope stitches together terabytes of high-resolution images of celestial bodies and displays them in a way that relates to their actual position in the sky. People can freely browse through the solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy, and beyond, or take advantage of a growing number of guided tours of the sky hosted by astronomers and educators at major universities and planetariums.
The service extends beyond the mere browsing of images. Users can choose which telescope they want to look through, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and others. They can view the locations of planets in the night sky – in the past, present, or future. They can view the universe through different wavelengths of light to reveal hidden structures in other parts of the galaxy.
Microsoft Research has formed close ties with members of the academic, education and scientific communities to make WorldWide Telescope a reality. NASA along with other organizations coordinated with Microsoft Research to provide the imagery, provide feedback on the application from a scientific point of view, and help turn WorldWide Telescope into a rich learning application.