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March 24, 2009 10:45 AM

IBM goes for Sun, Microsoft gets solar system in huge NASA deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope is getting a huge boost from NASA, which just announced that it's going to provide its planetary images and data to the service.

The deal involves more than 100 terabytes of data NASA will host at its Ames Research Center (near Google headquarters) that Microsoft will add to the telescope's explorable online map of the skies later this year.

Microsoft Research unveiled WorldWide Telescope last spring as a technology showcase and educational resource.

Also being added to the telescope is data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2005. It's been gathering high-resolution images and other data from Mars since 2006.

Under the arrangement, the telescope will also incorporate new moon images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that's launching in May.

"Making NASA's scientific and astronomical data more accessible to the public is a high priority for NASA, especially given the new administration's recent emphasis on open government and transparency," Ed Weller, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in the release.

Microsoft external research VP Tony Hey said the collaboration "will enable people around the world to explore new images of the Moon and Mars in a rich, interactive environment through the WorldWide Telescope."

Ames director S. Pete Worden said the project is "a compelling astronomical resource and will help inspire our next generation of astronomers."

(I've got to agree: The morning after I loaded WorldWide Telescope onto the touchscreen Eee Top I've been testing, my third-grader bypassed the TV and spent more than an hour tapping her way through space.)

NASA has already used Microsoft technology to build 3-D Photosynth image collections of the space shuttle launch pad and other facilitie at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the release said.

NASA's also developing tools to add more images, including historic imagery of the planets, into formats that can be easily browsed via the Web.

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