Microsoft, NASA put universe back on the Web

NASA and Microsoft team up to make data of the universe available to the public via Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope.

If you think the new Google Earth update that shows even more about Mars' surface is cool, Microsoft thinks what's it's about to offer is even cooler.

The company, together with NASA, announced on Tuesday plans to make planetary images and data available via the Internet. The two organizations will jointly develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to make NASA content--including high-resolution scientific images and data from Mars and the moon--explorable on Microsoft's online virtual telescope for exploring the universe, called WorldWide Telescope.

Dong Ngo/CNET

The WorldWide Telescope is a Web 2.0 visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from ground- and space-based telescopes for a seamless, rich media-guided exploration of the universe. Through WorldWide Telescope and Microsoft technology, people will be able to pan and zoom in on these images and the most interesting locations on Mars and the moon without distorted views at the poles.

For this new project, NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will process and host more than 100 terabytes of data (that's about enough to fill 20,000 DVDs). WorldWide Telescope will incorporate the data later in 2009 and feature imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which was launched in August 2005.

The MRO has been examining Mars with a high-resolution camera and five other instruments since 2006. So far the orbiter has sent home more data than all other Mars missions combined.

Other than the MRO, images a camera aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the LRO, will also be incorporated when publicly released this fall. The LRO is scheduled to launch this May and will spend at least a year in a low, polar orbit approximately 30 miles above the lunar surface collecting detailed information about the lunar environment.

Microsoft and NASA have worked together before, including on the project that enabled NASA to develop 3D interactive Microsoft Photosynth collections of the space shuttle launch pad and other facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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