Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope in Beta, Next is Environmental Observatory

BusinessWeek has an article about the WorldWide Telescope just released.

For people who have gazed up at the night sky in wonder and wished they had someone there to identify what they were looking at, Microsoft's (MSFT) WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is coming to the rescue.

The service, which opened to the public on May 13, lets people explore the cosmos through any computer with an Internet connection. It combines about 12 terabytes of data, including 50 surveys and 1,000 high-resolution studies, with links to astronomy research on sites around the Web. It blends the data with regularly updated photos captured by high-powered telescopes on and off the Earth, including the Hubble Space Telescope, circling the planet 353 miles up, and the Cerro Tololo Observatory, 312 miles north of Santiago, Chile, in the foothills of the Andes. Put it all together, and the WWT knits together a spellbinding panorama of the night sky.

There are some similar services available now, including Google (GOOG) Sky from the search kingpin. But what sets WWT apart is how easy it is to navigate the service and dig into more information about planets, stars, and galaxies. Sweep your mouse sideways, and you're spinning across the galaxy. Move the mouse forward, and you hurtle into the picture. You can close in on Sombrero Galaxy or a black hole in Galaxy NGC 4261 and find yourself immersed in startling details and whirling brilliant hues.

And, softpedia posts on a new Environmental Observatory.

Microsoft is building a pioneering environmental observatory together with the European Environment Agency, which will act as the foundation for the Global Observatory for Environmental Change, planned by the EEA. On May 14, 2008, Microsoft announced that it had inked a five-year alliance with EEA, destined to build what the Redmond company referred to as a world-leading online portal, with the initial focus placed on Europe. The partnership is essentially set up as a way to make environmental information available to the general public with the Global Observatory for Environmental Change online-portal acting as the main source.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA, revealed that the portal would enable people across the world, starting with 500 million Europeans in the initial stage, to take part in the process of improving the environment. For McGlade, the collaboration with the Redmond company is simply a guaranteed method to reach an audience as large as possible.

The WWT is a cool software + service application. Combine this possibility with a narrative capability to an Environmental Observatory and people will be able to learn more about environmental impact.

To turn WWT into even more of an educational tool, Microsoft built a feature that allows people to pull together different images and create narrated stories that they can share with others. "People have always looked up to the night sky and made up stories," Wong says. "This is a way for them to share those stories and that knowledge."

The service also allows you to look at different approaches to studying the universe, whether by studying cosmic dust or microwaves. That provides people with a broader understanding of astronomy research. And folks can even sign up to get feeds from specific telescopes around the world or in space.

WWT is expected to add more features that Google Sky has now. For instance, researchers can add their own data to Google Sky and use application programming interfaces (APIs) to put models of their data on their own sites. That competition, says Goodman, will be good for both as well as for researchers and amateurs alike.

The competition between Google and Microsoft is going to create some of the best environmental tools, and Data Centers are probably going to be one of those things that are studied for their environmental impact, given their use of power and water.

A little bit of irony that Google and Microsoft will create the tools that allow others to measure the environmental impact of the data centers that host the applications.