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Twinkle, twinkle little star

NGC 6946 Fireworks Galaxy

One of the great advantages that living out in the country brings is our ability to marvel at the magnitude and beauty of the night sky. On a moonless night in particular we’re rewarded with a huge sweep of our own Milky Way galaxy, a clear view of the planets currently in our area of the sky, and sights such as the nebulous Large Magellanic Cloud.

Those who’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to view the night sky at the Rushworth Observatory will attest to the beauty and wonder that the stars evoke (you can inquire about sessions at the Rushworth Observatory by contacting the Rushworth Community House).

Condensing some thousands of years of observing the sky into one sentence, it was the invention of the telescope by Galileo in 1608 that gave mankind a new view of the sky. Now it’s said that there are more telescopes used by so-called amateur astronomers than the scientists carrying out research at observatories such as Parkes Radio Telescope.

So what’s a cheap way to view the sky in more detail? The best way is to download Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope and enjoy the sky from the comfort of your warm lounge room. However before downloading the program from the WWT website, check out the page for system requirements. You’ll need an Internet connection but more demanding is the requirement for up-to-date graphics on your computer.

If your computer isn’t up to the system requirements, you’ll be welcome at the Rushworth Community House to spend an hour or so using WWT to study the sky at your own pace (note there’s a charge of $1.50 per half hour for computer use).

WorldWide Telescope is a great tool to get started with your voyage of discovery of the skies. The program has a number of guided tours that take you to Mars and other planets in the solar system, through a whole range of galaxies, supernovas, cosmic events and star clusters. So you don’t have to worry about where to start on your space trip.

Whether you take a guided tour or search for a particular planet, star, constellation, galaxy or nebula, in each case WWT displays images that are related to what you’re currently viewing.

If you want to control the program yourself, you can pan across the sky and zoom into images for greater detail. A right-click of the mouse on a region of the sky brings up the Finder Scope so you can get greater detail about the object you’ve right-clicked on.

The WorldWide Telescope project has a strong emphasis on education and the use of the program in schools and colleges in the science curriculum. Even if a science teacher directs students to one of the guided tours, there is scope for the students to branch off to view galaxies, supernovas, nebulas and possible sites of black holes in a constructive way.

So come on, let’s go space trucking around our Milky Way and our universe.


Posted using the Tech Preview of Windows Live Writer.


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