Robert Scoble posted about a Microsoft product that he couldn't disclose in the works that brought tears of joy to his eyes. He wrote:
Yesterday was one of those days. Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay, researchers at Microsoft, fired up their machines and showed me something that I can’t tell you about until February 27th. I’m sure you’ll read about his work in the New York Times or TechCrunch, among other places. It’s too inspiring to stay a secret for long.
While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down my face. It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had an emotional impact on me like that.
My guess is that virtual space travel makes Robert cry. Wong and Fay have been working on software like Microsoft Virtual Earth that applies to the heavens. Fay gave a talk last year at the Table Mountain Star Party Association (TMSPA) titled, "The WorldWide Telescope, bringing the Universe to a PC near you."
According a bio on the TMSPA site, Fay is Principal Research Software Design Engineer in the Next Media Research group at Microsoft, and "an avid amateur astronomer who has designed and built his own robotic domed observatory and he has created software that many DSLR owners use for astrophotography."
Spiral galaxy Messier 90 and its companion IC 3583 from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
From what I can gather, the software enables a virtual observatory that can integrate different sources of astronomical data, such as live feeds from Hubble telescope and archived information. In addition, users can create and share virtual space tours, complete with music tracks, and register astronomical images for viewing them in the context of the virtual sky.
Those with firsthand knowledge of the project say that it will change the way people think about the sky.
Following is the description of the talk Fay gave at TMSPA:
"The WorldWide Telescope, bringing the Universe to a PC near you"
The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) project is designed to be an extensible learning and exploration environment which integrates hyperlinked rich media narrative with a seamless multiple survey virtual sky to enable guided and unguided exploration of the universe. WWT is a collaboration between Next Media Research (Principal Researcher and group manager Curtis Wong, Principal Research Software Design Engineer Jonathan Fay and Jina Suh Research Intern), Alex Szalay at Johns Hopkins University, Alyssa Goodman at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics, and Frank Summers at Space Telescope Science Institute.
The vision for WWT began in 1993 Curtis' production of a CD-ROM called "John Dobson's Universe" which was never completed but featured a number of narrated tours within a virtual sky and included a talk that John Dobson recorded at Table Mountain in 1993. Curtis worked closely with Jim Gray and Alex Szalay in 2002 to develop the SkyServer Website to facilitate public access to the images and data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. SkyServer was always conceived of as the foundation towards building the World Wide Telescope. In early 2005 Curtis developed the collaborations with Harvard and STSCI and hired Jonathan Fay in late 2005 to utilize his experience in astronomical imaging and building interactive visualizations for TeraServer to architect and build the technology for WWT.