Microsoft Research is building an epic map under its "WorldWide Telescope," (WWT) of the universe that use data and photographs collected from the many telescopes including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
"With the WorldWide Telescope, scientists and developers have pieced together a detailed 3D view of the universe that lets a user do a fly by of any planet, star or galaxy known to man. You can even view the entire universe in a single frame."
But the WorldWide Telescope is more than just a neat exploration tool for astronomy and physics nerds. As the program director Dan Fay hopes NASA can use it as a research tool and that students from the elementary to graduate levels can use it as an educational resource.
MSR has also made it simple to manipulate data on a touch surface or desktop. "With the touch of a couple of buttons and pinch to zoom, you're off and flying through the universe. The team plans to bring this magic to mobile devices soon," writes Greg Barto.
Microsoft has also released an API to allow developers to build custom tours and lessons. The map also lets you look at any part of the sky in a number of light wavelengths, including infrared and X-ray.
Check out the WordWide Telescope (WWT) on its webpage, and install the requires plugin to exprience the Galaxy.