The latest version of Sky in Google Earth, released on January 09, 2008 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, now contains X-ray images from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Along with images from other NASA satellites, the addition of Chandra into Sky in Google Earth provides scientists, students, and amateur stargazers new opportunities to explore the Universe across the electromagnetic spectrum. Eli Bressert, Image Processor at the Chandra X-ray Center, discusses the Sky in Google Earth update.
The AAS in Austin has been very exciting. Beginning on Tuesday, Google started showing it's latest version of Google Sky 4.2. The program now has images from the Great Observatories, which include the Chandra X-ray Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope. If you have the latest Google Earth program you're just one click away from interacting with the Chandra X-ray images on a universal scale.
In the last the decade astronomy imaging has been improving astronomically with new telescopes, techniques, and cutting-edge technology and software. We have now arrived at a new age of imaging that we could call the 'Digital Evolution', where information is being embedded into astronomy images. Imagine that you're looking for a zipped file on your computer and you know what the file contains, but you cannot remember the name of the file. In the same way images until recently had the same problem. Now, with metadata we can rapidly find images just by typing in subjects related to the objects of interest. At the same time the coordinates of where these images lay in the sky are embedded in the JPG and TIFF format images. This allows us to map them into a virtual sky like Google Sky and see them among the stars.
When I first started developing the Chandra Showcase for Google Sky, seeing the X-ray images among the stars was astounding. Even as a science imager working with X-ray images day in and day out, I could finally give context to to the images. Cas A is a bright and colorful companion beside its astronomical neighbors.
As a user who explores the astronomy images in Google Sky, you can easily and quickly place your images among the stars. With just a few clicks in the program you can have your image shown as a layer with a balloon description. Or if you really want to get into it and make a custom balloon, and speed up your images for viewing you can used KML guides and wcs2kml provided by Google.
What we see now with the digital evolution is just the beginning. The images from Chandra and the other great space telescopes are being implemented and used in new ways that we have not imagined before. Thanks to programs like Google Sky, Microsoft World Wide Telescope, and others astronomy can reach the world in a whole new way, where every wavelength is seen interactively in the night sky.