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Starry Night

Growing up just outside of Washington, DC, I didn’t have many opportunities to observe the sky and see more than a handful of faint stars. It was exciting to go camping farther from the city and see so many more twinkling lights in the sky. And I always enjoyed my trips to the planetarium – a chance to see what the sky was supposed to look like!

Now, the internet makes the night sky accessible to anyone with a computer. A quick search provides constellation maps, high-resolution images of nearly any object, and brilliant panoramic pictures that you can explore for hours. I find myself looking at one object (the funny-looking galaxy M82 is one of my favorites) and then getting sidetracked, looking at the sky around it, looking farther, and then looking for something else entirely. The Universe is a big place! But these websites make it surprisingly approachable.

This month, we’re focusing on one NASA website that makes a variety of different data collections accessible to anyone – SkyView. This one-stop-shop for astronomical images is a virtual telescope. You tell it where to point (in its database) and it takes you there. Want a different wavelength? You’ve got it! SkyView makes its data accessible to popular sites like Google Sky and WorldWide Telescope, too, so you’ve probably used SkyView without even knowing it.

One of the things that’s always amazed me about NASA is the sheer volume of data that has been collected. While most of it is digital these days, there are still archives on tapes and reels. It’s surreal to visit one of these archives and stand among racks and racks of old data, to consider how much of the Universe is surrounding you just in that room. Tools like SkyView have organized this information more efficiently than any physical archive could, and made it accessible to me and you in the process.

I hope you enjoy this episode and try out SkyView yourself. If you’re wondering where to start… well, it’s a great big Universe out there, so start looking!

Check out Zooming Through the Universe, released today!


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NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration