Microsoft To Announce WorldWide Telescope On February 27

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A source close to Microsoft says the company will launch new desktop software called WorldWide Telescope on February 27 at the TED Conference in Monterey, California. Our guess is that this is what Robert Scoble was talking about last week when he said he saw a new Microsoft project that brought him to tears.

The service will be accessed through a downloadable application – Windows only for now is what we hear. Users will be able to pan around the nighttime sky and zoom as far in to any one area as the data will allow. Microsoft is said to be tapping the Hubble telescope as well as ten or so earth bound telescopes around the world for data. When you find an area you like, you can switch to a number of different views, such as infrared and non-visible light.

Dan Farber posted his own educated guess that the project might be WorldWide Telescope, based on the fact that Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay were involved, and he’s right. Last year Fay gave a presentation called “”The WorldWide Telescope, bringing the Universe to a PC near you.” In 1993, Wong started a project called “John Dobson’s Universe,” a virtual sky tour on a CD-ROM, narrated by John Dobson. The two began working together at Microsoft in 2005.

From what we hear, WorldWide Telescope will be significantly better than Google Sky, which launched last August as part of Google Earth, and the open source Stellarium (which is hugely better than Google Sky already). The key is the user interface, which is seamless as you move around the sky and zoom in and out. Much of the Photosynth technology is said to have been used for the project. And the sheer amount of data Microsoft is accessing, said to be measured in the terabits, gives that great user interface something to show off.

Look for an announcement at TED, and more at Microsoft’s upcoming TechFest in early March.

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