Microsoft’s telescope project is going places, literally. It has made a number of improvements to its Worldwide Telescope project which includes partnering with NASA to offer much higher clarity of pictures of Mars. The improvements made are so extensive that reports suggest even the track marks made by the Mars rovers can be viewed!


Dan Fay, director of Earth, Energy, and Environment for Microsoft Research, commented that details such as boulders can be seen on the surface of the Red Planet with the help of this revolutionary project. Microsoft previously teamed up with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a Mars project that lets youngsters and other space enthusiasts help count and label craters on the Mars’ surface.

With these changes, the telescope will add various different new views of the planet as well as guided tours from some of NASA’s experts on Mars. The addition of Mars imagery is one of the many changes to the telescope that Microsoft is showed off during its annual Faculty Summit meeting, open to outside researchers. Other developments made in the telescope project include an attempt to put in an improved spherical image of the full sky and make the seams between individual still images much less visible. Altogether, the telescope is now based on a terapixel (1 trillion pixels) image of the known universe. To put that in comparative terms, Fay said it would take 500,000 HDTVs to show the image in its full fidelity!

The enhancements will be available on both the downloadable Windows version of the telescope, the Web-based version and on the telescope imagery used within Bing Maps.


The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a program created by Microsoft running under either a Microsoft Windows client or a new cross platform web client based on Silverlight which allows its users to view images of outer space. It was announced at the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Conference in Monterey, California in February, 2008. Users are able to pan around outer space and zoom into any one area as far as the data will allow. Images are retrieved from the Hubble Space Telescope and about ten earth-bound telescopes. It is possible to observe the sky in many wavelengths of light. The software makes use of Microsoft’s Visual Experience Engine technologies to function. This enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky, merging together terabytes of images, data, and stories from across multiple sources over the Internet into a media-enhanced immersive experience.

Data for WorldWide Telescope is stored in WTML, a specialized XML file format. Data can include references to new imagery, locations in space or even on Earth, or another planet. Developers can import their own images and create data files within the program, or instead author the WTML manually or by using their own custom tools.

Microsoft Research is making the WorldWide Telescope project available as a free resource to the astronomy and education society with the expectation that it will motivate and empower people to explore and appreciate the universe as never before.