To begin your journey to the centre of the universe, you need to download and install the Windows desktop version of WorldWide Telescope from www.worldwidetelescope.org.
If you find your computer is a bit old and the graphics aren’t up to running WWT (we’ll use this abbreviation for WorldWide Telescope to save screen space) or if you have a Mac, you can still get most of the features of the desktop version by viewing the heavens through the online web client at www.worldwidetelescope.org/webclient/ (note you may be prompted to install Silverlight so do that).
Start your engines
When WWT loads, you’ll see a 3D view of the solar system set against the Milky Way. Across the top of the screen are a set of menu items with the Explore mode set. On the next line are the first group of collections (to get to the next group, click the arrow on the far right).
These collections are imagery captured from various telescopes, some ground-based, and others such as the Hubble Telescope, are carried by satellites. The second group of collections include a 3D view of the Solar System, Earth view and panoramas of views taken by Apollo and the Mars Pathfinder for example.
Each of the main menu items has a small white arrow which gives you access to a submenu of options.
So to read WWT’s Getting Started help guide, choose the white arrow under Explore.
Set up WWT for your location
You’ll want to view the sky from where you live so click on View from the top menu.
Now click the Setup button which gives you a list of cities around the world from which to choose. Note that you can be more precise by entering the latitude, longitude and height above sea level of your location. You can find your latitude and longitude in Bing Maps.
Notice to the right of Observing location is Observing time – yes, that means you can time travel (check WWT’s help as to how you might use this feature).
Click Explore and then choose Hubble Studies. Imagery from the Hubble Telescope is often featured in the media so it’s worth exploring for that reason. If you look at the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll notice that there are fourteen different groups of imagery so there’s plenty here to explore.
Choose SuperNova87A because it was only recently observed in 1987 and has been vigorously studied since that time.
Now the top image menu changes to show that there seven different views of SuperNova87A. Click the first one and the screen fills with a view of this supernova. At the bottom of the screen are similar links to the same images but others have been added to the list.
In the bottom right of the screen you’ll see an indicator that shows the progress of the imagery download that takes place to build up the full screen view of the object you’re viewing. Imagery in WWT is drawn from a number of sources and it makes up terrabytes of data so what’s needed to create the image on your screen comes down and is pieced together by WWT as required.
Panning and zooming
To pan around the screen view, hold down the left mouse button and drag in the required direction. To zoom in and out, use your mouse’s scroll wheel or the page up and page down keys on your keyboard.
You’ll notice that as you navigate around and zoom that more imagery is downloaded to build your view. Depending on the speed of your internet connection, it make take a bit of time for the full image to settle.
Staying with our view of SuperNova87A, right click over the image that’s at the centre of your screen to bring up the Finder Scope. Firstly you can drag the Finder around the screen and it’ll give you information about what’s in its scope. Note, too, that the altitude and azimuth values are constantly changing due to the earth spinning on its axis and our view is thus moving across the celestial sphere.
At the bottom left of the Finder is a Research button. From the popup menu you can choose to find out more information such as following the link to Wikipedia. As well there’s lots more information, much of which is for professional astronomers who want to contribute to various research programs.
Other viewing options
Click your way back to Collections and choose the Solar System. Now click on Jupiter and watch with awe as WWT swings around to a different part of the sky and zooms in to the planet. Depending on when you view Jupiter will determine which of Jupiter’s moons are in view at the present zoom level. That information will be indicated in the bottom pane. For example, at the time of writing (about midday), Io was the only moon shown.
But hang on, you say, Jupiter isn’t visible at midday. So go to View on the top menu and click View from this location. Woosh and you’re looking at a blue screen representing the placement of the horizon in relation to the sky at your location.
If you’re starting out in astronomy, you might need to look up some defintions such as constellation, nebula, supernova, galaxies, dark matter and inter-stellar gas. As already noted, the Finder Scope gives you direct access to information on the web and there’s Bing Search to help out.
As well there are a number of Guided Tours built-in to WWT to help out. Once you become familiar with WWT, you can even create your own tours of the universe. Hint: click on New Tours for more which include the first imagery of extrasolar planets.
When you’re exhausted from flying around the universe, take the 3D tour of the Solar System. For homework, look through WWT’s help guide to find out how to view some of the universe in 3D for a touch of realism.
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Posted using the 2009 version of Windows Live Writer.
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