Enter the maze

My space

the Sunflower Galaxy in Sky for Google Earth

Throughout issue 8 of cs4fn, you can read about how other people are exploring what’s up there in space. Now it’s your turn. The geographic superstar known as Google Earth has been given an amazing little tool called Sky. It lets you fly around to millions of stars and galaxies just by moving your mouse. The universe is a pretty big place to explore, though, so Ed Parsons, Google’s Geospatial Technologist, helped cs4fn find the best bits for you to go out and try. After a curry in Google’s decked-out London office, he gave us a tour of Sky and told us how it all works.

Google Earth is, in Ed’s words, “this big mosaic of imagery”. Just like tiles on a wall, millions of tiny pictures get put together in relation to one another to form the globe. Google’s server is always working out which part of the world you’re looking at, and how close you want to get. That makes the difference between whether it loads up a big satellite image of Europe or an aerial photo of your own town. As you zoom in, the server starts sending you more detailed shots until you’re finally staring at your neighbour’s camper van.

Sky works much the same way only flipped upwards. The story goes that two years ago, a couple of astronomers visited Google and got to thinking that the same technology that lets you fly around the Earth could make exploring the sky a lot easier. “In the similar way that we had that mosaic of satellite imagery on the planet, why not make a mosaic that produces the universe?” says Ed. “So that’s what we’ve done.” Observatories from all over the world, including telescopes on the ground and in space, like the Hubble, dug out their photos to be added to the mosaic in Sky. Then more people – some astronomers, some hobbyists – got to work adding labels, constellations, planets and even video.

That huge community makes it seem like you could spend one of Pluto’s years in Sky without seeing everything that they’ve added. So to get you started, on the next few pages we've got some of the most fun, interesting and surprising things to see.

What's going on above your house? Next page >