Users can now view constellations, galaxies, planets, and even the moon in the comfort of their home with the help of Google Earth’s new Sky feature.

This easy-to-use tool enables all Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. High resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualising and learning about space, the company says.
To access Sky, users need only click “Switch to Sky” from the “view” drop-down menu in Google Earth, or click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar. The interface and navigation are similar to that of standard Google Earth steering, including dragging, zooming, search, “My Places,” and layer selection.

Sky was created by Google’s Pittsburgh engineering team by stitching together imagery from numerous scientific third parties including the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, CalTech’s Palomar Observatory, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre, and the Anglo-Australian Observatory.

According to Google, the initiative was born out of the University of Washington’s participation with the Google Visiting Faculty Program, which makes it possible for leading academic researchers to visit Google with their work for 6-12 month periods.


Product Manager at Google, Lior Ron said, “We’re excited to provide users with rich astronomical imagery and enhanced content that enables them to both learn about what they’re seeing and tell their own stories. By working with some of the industry’s leading experts, we’ve been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope.”

The announcement follows last month’s inclusion of the NASA layer group in Google Earth, showcasing NASA’s Earth exploration.  The group has three main components, including Astronaut Photography of Earth, Satellite Imagery, and Earth City Lights.  Astronaut Photography of Earth showcases photographs of the Earth as seen from space from the early 1960s on, while Satellite Imagery highlights Earth images taken by NASA satellites over the years and Earth City Lights traces well-lit cities across the globe.

As part of the new feature, Google is introducing seven informative layers that illustrate various celestial bodies and events:

  • Constellations – From Cassiopeia to Andromeda, the Constellations layer connects the points of constellations through space, labeling each with its given name.  Users can learn about the stars that make up their favorite constellations.
  • Backyard Astronomy – The Backyard Astronomy layer lets users click through a variety of placemarks and information on stars, galaxies, and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes.  This layer is useful for the amateur astronomer who might benefit from a comprehensive, organised way to reference fragments of the night sky.
  • Hubble Space Telescope Imagery – The HST layer provides the user with over 120 beautiful high-resolution images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA/ESA’s renowned orbiting telescope.
  • Moon – The Moon layer displays animations of two months of both lunar positions and moon phases.
  • Planets – The Planets layer exhibits the seven other official planets and their positions in the sky two months into the future.
  • Users Guide to Galaxies – The Users Guide to Galaxies layer enables users to go on virtual tours through different types of galaxies, from Ursa Minor Dwarf to the Milky Way.
  • Life of a Star – The Life of a Star layer takes the user on a tour through the different stages of a star’s life cycle.

To access Sky in Google Earth, users need to download the newest version of Google Earth, available at: http://earth.google.com

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