With the release of the Google Earth 4.2 client the new Sky feature acts as a virtual telescope, as Google calls it, that provides a view of some of the most detailed images ever taken of the night sky. By clicking on the Sky button, you can explore the universe, seamlessly zooming from the familiar views of the constellations and stars, to the deepest images ever taken of galaxies and more. From planets moving across the sky to supernovae exploding in distant galaxies, Sky provides a view of a dynamic universe that we hope you will enjoy.
The New York Times reports that these images were “stitched together from more than one million photographs from scientific and academic sources, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology and the NASA-financed Hubble.” To see this in Google Earth, select View -> Switch to Sky from the menu.
In addition to allowing educators, amateurs or anyone with an interest in space to visually explore the sky, one of the most exciting aspects of Sky is its capability for research and discovery in astronomy. With the latest features in KML you can connect astronomical image and catalog databases directly to the visualization capabilities of Sky ( e.g. searching the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database for the highest redshift quasars or correlating the the infrared and optical sky to detect the presence of dust within our Galaxy). From releasing new data about the latest discovery of planets around nearby stars to identifying the host galaxy of a gamma ray burst the possibilities are endless. Examples of how to build research applications such as a view of the microwave background emission from the remnant of the Big Bang can be found in the Google Earth Gallery.
Another new feature in Google Earth is the addition of super-high resolution photo content, which you can see by adding the layer Primary Database -> Featured Content -> Gigapxl Photos. Unlike Google Street View, these photos however are only available for a few select places (like buildings), so there’s not a lot of random fun stuff to be found.