The unpredictable Aurigid meteor shower might happen over the weekend, or it might not. But whether you're in foggy San Francisco or balmy Iraq, you can use the latest Google Earth update to check out the stars above your head, day or night.
In the version 4.2 upgrade, Google Earth once again proves that it's the best 3-D mapping application around. The most impressive of the newest features is the Sky View, which shows the constellations directly above the point on Earth that you were looking at. It doesn't just show you a static shot of little white dots representing stars. That would be way too mundane.
Instead, the stars are interspersed with clickable blue, yellow, and red dots, as well as green five-point stars and other icons. Clicking on one will open up an info box, telling you about the heavenly body that it represents. The information includes the name of the star, galaxy, comet or whatever it is, photos from the Hubble telescope and other sources, factual information including its distance from Earth, its location in relation to other astronomical bodies, its coordinate location, and NASA and Wikipedia links.
The Moon in Motion and Planets in Motion features show you the position of the moon and the planets in relation to what constellations you're looking and when you're looking at them. Which is yet another neat feature in Google Sky: because so much of what we see above our heads depends on the time of year that we're looking, you can control certain seasonal aspects of the view.
The practical application of all this information is nothing less than incredible. Before now, there was at the very least some lightweight Web surfing involved to determine whether that bright red dot on the horizon was Mars, Jupiter or the first sign of the apocalypse. Now, you can stick your head out the window, fire up Google Earth Sky view and have the entirety of the heavens at your fingertips.