Featured Freeware: WorldWide Telescope

Possibly the best piece of software that Microsoft's published in ages, WorldWide Telescope lets users explore the universe with impressive content from both Earth-bound and satellite telescopes.

Possibly the best piece of software that Microsoft has published in ages, WorldWide Telescope lets users explore the universe with impressive content from the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, and other famed ground- and space-based telescopes. Colorful nebulae, distant galaxies, black holes, and radiation clouds are all accessible from your desktop with a few clicks.

WorldWide Telescope interface

Collections in the Explore tab offer shortcuts to amazing photographs like this one.

(Credit: CNET Networks/Microsoft Research)

You can move around the sky by clicking with your left mouse and dragging the screen. Seven tabs help you navigate: Explore, Guided Tours, Search, Community, Telescope, View, and Settings. There are multiple mouse and keyboard commands for rotating and tilting the view, and zooming in and out. Right-click on any object to learn more about it. You can save your favorite places in the universe in "My Collections," and you can watch guided tours conducted by both experts and users. You can add text, images, and shapes to enhance your tour, and you can even layer a soundtrack and voice-over.

There are a few niggling bugs--zooming with the mouse wheel is inaccurate, canceling the download of a guided tour crashes the program, and the help content is hidden underneath the Explore drop-down menu. However, the software boasts a hoard of amazing telescope imagery to be explored as well as very cool features that let you view, save, and manage that imagery in many ways. WorldWide Telescope appears to be an invaluable tool for hobbyists, astronomers, students, educators, or anyone curious about the universe.

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