NASA pics of Mars, moon going on Microsoft's virtual telescope

Images taken from Mars, lunar orbiters part of 100TB of NASA data put on WorldWide Telescope

Wishing you could explore the ocean of images that NASA has taken of the moon and Mars?

That treasure chest won't be out of reach much longer.

NASA and Microsoft Corp. today announced that they're working to make planetary images and data available online via Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope, which was launched last year to give people free access to information and images gathered from telescopes around the world and in outer space.

For example, NASA and Microsoft said that images and information from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Red Planet for two and a half years, will soon be uploaded into the WorldWide Telescope.

"This collaboration between Microsoft and NASA will enable people around the world to explore new images of the moon and Mars in a rich, interactive environment through the WorldWide Telescope," said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research's external research division, in a statement. "WorldWide Telescope serves as a powerful tool [that enables] computer science researchers, educators and students to explore space and experience the excitement of computer science."

Together, NASA and Microsoft are set to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to take NASA content, including high-resolution images of and data from Mars and the moon, and put it up on the WorldWide Telescope to help people explore more details about the universe. The WorldWide Telescope is also expected to gather images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera, which is set to launch this May into a low polar orbit about 30 miles above the moon's surface.

"NASA is excited to collaborate with Microsoft to share its portfolio of planetary images with students and lifelong learners," said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, in a statement. "This is a compelling astronomical resource and will help inspire our next generation of astronomers."

Microsoft announced just a little more than a year ago that it had been amassing imagery from the world's best ground and space-based telescopes -- including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey -- to create a cohesive view of the universe. The project is designed to let people use their computers to pan across the night sky or zoom in on a particular star or nebula. For example, it allows people to focus in on the planet Saturn or Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

The WorldWide Telescope project also allows users to call up related data and information, take guided tours of the universe or even create their own tours for others to launch.

As part of this partnership between NASA and Microsoft, the Ames Research Center is expected to process and host more than 100 terabytes of data -- enough to fill 20,000 DVDs. That information is slated to be incorporated into the WorldWide Telescope later this year.

The Ames Research Center, which is in Sunnyvale, Calif., also is developing a suite of planetary data processing tools to help integrate NASA's data into Microsoft's system.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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