New feature in Google Earth enables users to explore space from their computer by opening important astronomy archives

Press Release From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Google today announced the launch of Sky, a new feature that enables users of Google Earth to view the sky as seen from planet Earth. To create Sky, data has been contributed from major astronomical collections, including images of the southern hemisphere skies collected by the UK Schmidt telescope between 1976 and 1995. The Science and Technology Facilities Council's Edinburgh centre, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) hold the records of this data, which has now been digitalised by the Space Telescope Institute in the US for inclusion in Sky.

With Sky, users can now float through the skies via Google Earth. This easy-to-use tool enables all Earth users to view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. High resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualizing and learning about space.

Professor Ian Robson, Director of the UK ATC said "As professional astronomers, asking how stars and galaxies form in the Universe, we know the excitement and wonder telescope images can evoke. Through Sky on Google Earth, we will be able to share that sense of exploration with the entire world." The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) has opened up its archives to Sky, providing two decades of images from the UK Schmidt Telescope which was built to survey the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and reveal the stars, constellations and galaxies only visible from there.

To access Sky, users need only click "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth, or click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar. The interface and navigation are similar to that of standard Google Earth steering, including dragging, zooming, search, "My Places," and layer selection.

As part of the new feature, Google is introducing seven informative layers that illustrate various celestial bodies and events:

  • Constellations - From Cassiopeia to Andromeda, the Constellations layer connects the points of constellations through space, labelling each with its given name. Users can learn about the stars that make up their favourite constellations.
  • Backyard Astronomy - The Backyard Astronomy layer lets users click through a variety of place marks and information on stars, galaxies, and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes. This layer is useful for the amateur astronomer who might benefit from a comprehensive, organized way to reference fragments of the night sky.
  • Hubble Space Telescope Imagery - The HST layer provides the user with over 120 beautiful high-resolution images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA/ESA's renowned orbiting telescope.
  • Moon - The Moon layer displays animations of two months of both lunar positions and moon phases.
  • Planets - The Planets layer exhibits the seven other official planets and their positions in the sky two months into the future.
  • Users Guide to Galaxies - The Users Guide to Galaxies layer enables users to go on virtual tours through different types of galaxies, from Ursa Minor Dwarf to the Milky Way.
  • Life of a Star - The Life of a Star layer takes the user on a tour through the different stages of a star's life cycle.

Sky was created by Google's Pittsburgh engineering team by stitching together imagery from numerous scientific third parties including the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the Digital Sky Survey Consortium (DSSC), CalTech's Palomar Observatory, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), and the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO). The initiative was born out of the University of Washington's participation with the Google Visiting Faculty Program, which makes it possible for leading academic researchers to visit Google with their work for 6-12 month periods.

To access Sky in Google Earth, users need to download the newest version of Google Earth, available at: The feature will be available on all Google Earth domains, in 13 languages. To learn more about Sky, view a demo here: or watch Sally Ride and Google engineer Greg Coombe showcasing some of Sky's capabilities here:

About Google Earth Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google's search service to make the world's geographic information easily accessible and useful. There have been over 200 million unique downloads of Google Earth since the product's launch in June, 2005. Google Earth can be downloaded for free at

Notes for Editors

About Google Inc. Google's innovative search technologies connect millions of people around the world with information every day. Founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google today is a top web property in all major global markets. Google's targeted advertising program provides businesses of all sizes with measurable results, while enhancing the overall web experience for users. Google is headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. For more information, visit

Google, Keyhole and Google Earth are trademarks of Google Inc. in the United States and/or other countries. All other company and product names may be trademarks of respective companies with which they are associated.

Press Contacts:

Julia Maddock
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Tel +44 1793 442094

Eleanor Gilchrist
UK Astronomy Technology Centre

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

  • The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
  • The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
  • The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council distributes public money from the Government to support scientific research. Between 2007 and 2008 we will invest over 700 million pounds.

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