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Smithsonian now lets you view artifacts in 3D

The museum's new online 3D viewer lets you examine such objects as the life mask of Abraham Lincoln, the Wright brothers' first plane, and Amelia Earhart's flight suit.

You can now explore the Wright Brothers' first plane in 3D.
You can now explore the Wright Brothers' first plane in 3D. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

You can now take a 3D peek at several famous historical artifacts thanks to a project from the Smithsonian Institution.

Launched on Wednesday, the Smithsonian X 3D Web site serves up a collection of 3D images of artifacts digitally scanned by the museum through a partnership with Autodesk. You can explore the artifacts in detail by manipulating their images via mouse on your computer or via finger on a supported touch-screen device.

You can revolve the images to see artifacts from all sides and angles. You can zoom in on a specific area to see more detail or or zoom out to see the artifact in full view.

Among the 20 artifacts currently up for display are Abraham Lincoln's life mask (a plaster cast of Lincoln's face that was used to create busts and sculptures), the Wright brothers' first airplane, Amelia Earhart's flight suit, a 1776 gunboat, and the fossils of an ancient dolphin and whale.

You can also tour certain objects with guided slide show presentations that reveal detailed information about the object. And you can share a snapshot of any artifact through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Delicious. Those of you who have a 3D printer can even download and print the items in full 3D.

Viewing the images requires a browser that supports WebGL. That includes Firefox and Google Chrome both in Windows and Mac OS X. Safari users can enable WebGL to display the artifacts. Android device owners can also view the images, at least on the latest phones and tablets. But iOS users are out of luck since Apple doesn't allow WebGL on its devices.