This morning I got news that Microsoft had finally released a "Spring Beta" edition of their World Wide Telescope. It is heralded as the Microsoft version of Google Sky and some have even been in tears when describing it. Does it live up to the hype? Here is my quick review after only a little bit of time to play with it.
The download and install was actually very painless with only the need to install Div X as a minor annoyance. It starts up fairly quickly and the interface is actually quite nice to look at although it could do with hiding the Windows blue title bar. Anyway, here is what it looks like.
The start screen for the World Wide Telescope (with tabs hidden) CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
Let's get into the more exciting parts of WWT namely the ability to show sky surveys from the entire electromagnetic spectrum. This is a feature I've long been wanting in Stellarium or Google Sky (Rob did hack the time slider to do that) and it is nice to see that WWT has been very comprehensive. You can choose from most of the major sky surveys that exist from radio wavelengths up to gamma rays. I'll illustrate it with a WMAP view of the cosmic microwave background.
Changing the sky imagery to WMAP (Cosmic Microwave Background) CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
WMAP data zoomed out showing projection distortion CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
The NRAOs VLA Sky Survey data showing Cassiopeia A CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
Search with the Simbad name resolver CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
NGC 884 CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
Venus CREDIT: Microsofts World Wide Telescope
- Looks quite nice
- Multi-wavelength all sky surveys
- FITS download of images from the DSS
- Simbad name resolver search
- ASCOM control
- When changing object from a zoomed in view it zooms fully out, moves position and then zooms in. It would be nice to smoothly combine the two like in Google Earth/Sky.
- I think I've seen some strange projection effects looking at 2MASS data.
- You can't get a full screen view without the menu bar and the top option tabs
- (from Alasdair in the comments) The Mac version isn't really a Mac version but a Windows version running under boot camp.
Bugs and improvements I'd like to see
- I get flickering of overlay boxes on my Windows XP machine.
- There is a possibility of fading between wavelength views (like the option in the web-based Google Sky) but I can't get it to work.
- When viewing the Sun it would be nice if it displayed a live image from SOHO (or STEREO).
- Update (14/5/2008): In Ian's review he says that there are problems with display when setting your location in the southern hemisphere