Big Sky; Big Data: WorldWide Telescope in Focus at Astronomical Conference
The 28th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) opened on August 20, 2012, at the China National Convention Center in Beijing, with WorldWide Telescope (WWT) prominently featured at the Microsoft Research exhibition.
Astronomy is one of the oldest and most inspirational areas of scientific discovery, and the two-week IAU General Assembly attracts thousands of attendees from around the world. Participants include researchers and educators not only in traditional astronomy and astrophysics disciplines but also those drawn from informatics, data science, and computer science.
Even in this era of “big data,” astronomy remains one of the most data-intensive fields, which, in part, explains Microsoft Research’s long history of working with the astronomical community. The data- and information-intensive problems that arise as the astronomical community strives to create an all-sky survey (a survey of everything in the sky) and a virtual (online) observatory have stimulated many innovative software and engineering ideas at Microsoft Research and have fostered a rewarding collaboration with the astronomical community.
One of the most successful outcomes of this collaboration has been WWT, which enables a computer to function as a virtual telescope and more. The WWT software aggregates the best data and imagery from all the main space- and ground-based telescopes, providing incomparable views of the night sky. It also connects seamlessly to the information behind the imagery and allows users to layer their own data on top of the common sky and the Earth imagery. In so doing, WWT enables users to tell stories with data very easily.
Since its first release in early 2008, WWT has gained millions of users worldwide. For many astronomical professionals, especially educators, WWT has made a fundamental difference in their career. With an exponentially growing user community, we expect that WWT will continue to contribute to the advancement of computational astronomy research and science education. The growing value of WWT is summed up nicely by Harvard astronomer Alyssa Goodman and IAU President Robert Williams:
WWT was originally created as an educational tool, but it has rapidly become the very best example of the all-sky “Virtual Observatory” research astronomers have been working toward since the advent of the Internet. Today, WWT is the single richest source of astronomical imagery and links online, and it is loved by educators and researchers alike.
I am immensely impressed with WWT as a teaching and outreach tool and what MR [Microsoft Research] has done to make it both appealing and practical. The IAU has recently commenced a large global program to use astronomy as a tool for education and technology development, and I believe that WWT should be a key element in that entire effort.
Microsoft Research is proud to present the WorldWide Telescope at the 28th IAU General Assembly, in exhibition booth #46. Together with the WWT Ambassadors from Harvard University and academic collaborators from the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Central Normal University, we are eager to engage with IAU2012 attendees and create more WWT success stories. In addition, we look forward to introducing visitors to other cutting-edge Microsoft technologies, including Layerscape, Microsoft Translator, and Kinect for Windows, and to advancing mutually beneficial collaborations between academia and Microsoft Research.