Oh, what a wonderful Google world we live in. Today, Google unveiled a new feature in Google Earth, the Sky. That’s right, along side your house, your office, and that mutant strange thing you created in Google Sketchup, you can also look at the stars, galaxies, and planets in Google Earth. In collaboration with ESA and NASA, Google now includes sky maps complete with links to Hubble imagery and all sorts of neat factoids.
I’m sure you’ve already heard a bunch a bloggers praise Google (and if you haven’t here’s Phil’s take). Now, while it is uber cool, and is certain to waste many many man and woman hours, my first thought was, “This is gonna make teaching so much easier.”
1) If there is a star party coming up, I can open up Google Earth from any computer I can install an ap on – no fees – and find out interactively what is out there. Up until now, I’ve been using Sky and Telescope’s Interactive Sky Map. I love and respect the work S&T is doing, but will now turn to a new tool when planning my star parties.
2) The zoom feature let’s me zoom in to a binocular sized viewing area. This is a great way to practice star hopping with soft ware! Star hopping is how you get from a bright star that you can see with your eyes to a faint object you can only see with the aid of binoculars or a telescope that you are manually operating. For instance, when I’m looking at Andromeda, I often get there by star hopping from one of the legs in Pegasus, from the star nu Andromeda.
3) I can easily show students around the sky, and after I turn off all the labels, it is just as confusing as the real sky. These means we can practice using outdoor star maps, like planispheres, inside on Google Earth.
4) Did I mention how easy this is going to make planning star parties?
5) This will also allow us, when we have remote connections, to figure out what the heck we accidentally discovered while lost in the sky. If you ever wander around Sagittarius with a pair of binoculars you’ll very quickly understand what I mean. That particular region of the sky is chock full of nebulae, star clusters, and all sorts of combinations of these objects.
I had previously uninstalled Google Earth because there was nothing it did that I needed that I couldn’t do with Google Maps (my computer only has 40GB of memory, so choices have to be made). This new functionality won me over, and Google now has acreage on my hard drive and a place in my curriculum.