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WorldWide Telescope finds a new home at the American Astronomical Society


By Jonathan Fay, Principal Software Development Engineer, Microsoft Research


Founded in 2007, WorldWide Telescope (WWT) began as a “dream project” for Jim Gray, Curtis Wong, and myself. In July 2015, WWT was classified as an open source project. Now, in 2016, we marked another milestone for WWT as we moved from our current home at Microsoft Research to become part of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and a migration to Microsoft Azure. The AAS, formed in 1899, has a mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. With WWT’s new life in this long-established organization, we can work together to inspire scientists, heighten scientific understandings, and enrich our experience of the universe.

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If Azure had been available when WWT was in development, it would have accelerated the project and its deployment; Microsoft Azure allows us to manage our global users and easily provision resources for new projects and collaborations as needed. With Microsoft Azure, we can keep up with cutting-edge technologies, software, and data—free from the limitations of physical server management.

Over the last eight years, WWT has worked to help the public experience the universe in whole new ways. Even seasoned astronomers can see their data in context while opening brand new doors in discovery and understanding. Becoming open source and being managed by the AAS has allowed WWT to widen its capabilities and sharpen our scientific impact.

WWT has always been about the beautiful collaboration and intersection of key people, all who brought together ideas they were passionate about. Then, as if serendipitous, they were combined into a product that exceeded the sum of its parts. I’ve given in-person demos to the likes of 100,000 people. I’ve had the privilege of consulting with astronomers and astronauts helping us make WWT as accurate as possible. I’ve heard crowds of people gasp at once as we virtually zoomed through the Milky Way. Through it all, our hope was to inspire a new community of users and a next generation of scientists. I’ve seen firsthand how WWT can inspire new minds and foster exciting understanding. With our new home at AAS, we look forward to continuing our work for years to come.

WWT exists today because of Jim’s vision and will continue because of those he inspired. With AAS and WWT Jim’s legacy lives on, continuing to inspire a whole new generation of scientists.

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