Microsoft's answer to Google Sky to launch at end of May

Microsoft will launch its Worldwide Telescope tool for exploring astronomical imagery by the end of May, Bill Gates said Friday.

Microsoft will launch Worldwide Telescope, a tool for exploring images of the night sky, by the end of May, free to anyone who wants to use it, Microsoft's chairman said Friday.

Worldwide Telescope is software that allows people to gaze at the universe through the data collected by telescopes all around the world — and above it: there's even data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

"This is taking data that's very complex, gathered over many years from many telescopes, and making it accessible," said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, at a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The star-gazing software appears to be similar to Google Sky, which Google launched in August 2007. Microsoft could not immediately provide further details about Worldwide Telescope besides what Gates said during his speech.

People using Microsoft's software can also create their own tours of certain parts of the universe, say a galaxy or star, or listen to professors or others who have posted their own tour. For example, someone could view the planet Jupiter or Crab Nebula using the software. Worldwide Telescope makes use of star databases all over the Web.

Gates said the data collection techniques in Worldwide Telescope could be applied to many other subjects, including genomics, but he did not say whether Microsoft was at work on any other projects.

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Dan Nystedt

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