A hyperdrive for Google Earth

Perhaps the most visceral effect in Google Earth takes place when you open the program and that vision of the Earth from space swings into view. It’s tempting to head off into space itself—and you can, using Earth’s “sky mode.” But the space imagery Google includes is optimized for quick download—thus it’s low-res and very incomplete. Now, two Fermilab scientists have announced (at the online journal arXiv astrophysics) their creation of a layer of rich, detailed images of galaxies and galaxy clusters, using data from the Sloan Sky Survey, a vast stockpile of astronomical data that includes images of nearly one million galaxies. At a separate site, astronomers Jiangang Hao and James Annis provide instructions on downloading and installing the layer for use with your own version of Google Earth. While it’s only a slice of the Sloan Sky Survey, the file is still huge; but once the five-minute download is over, you’ll be swooping across the megaparsecs in search of new strange new worlds.

For astronomy geeks, one question remains: when will StreetView be visiting the exoplanet Fomalhaut b?

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