Canberra, May 13 : Microsoft has launched a free downloadable software that can turn any computer into mini Hubble telescopes capable of displaying high resolution images of millions of stars, planets and other celestial bodies.
According to a report in The Age, developed by a small team at Microsoft Research, the software company's key R andD centre, this software is called the WorldWide Telescope (WWT).
The program works in the same way as many online mapping tools, allowing users to zoom around on an interactive canvas combining images and data drawn from the world's leading astronomical research organisations.
At launch, the WWT has access to 12 terabytes of data - enough to fill the equivalent of 1.2 million books. But like the universe, this will expand as new images are added.
"Galileo's telescope started to give us views of the universe that no one else had seen before and we started asking what was out there and why. And I think the WorldWide Telescope is going to do the same thing for the rest of us," said Dr Roy Gould of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.
According to Dr Gould, the WWT will give amateur astronomers and even complete novices an opportunity to assist the scientific community in furthering their research.
"This is going to change our relationship with the night sky in a significant way," he said.
A key feature of the program is the ability of users - any user, not just the experts - to create rich media tours to showcase features found on the WWT database.
For instance, one of the tours takes you across the Martian landscape using images captured in the Mars Rover program.
"For millennia, every different culture has their own story about the heavens," said Dr Curtis Wong, a leading Microsoft research scientist and the head of the WWT project. "The WorldWide Telescope is an opportunity for people to create and share those stories," he added.
The WWT comes as a 20MB download and is available from the WorldWide Telescope site. The program only works on the Widows operating system.