We always knew Google was planning to take over the universe. They come one step closer with the release of Google Sky, part of an upgrade to their very cool Google Earth software. If you or your children are into astronomy, or have to learn more about it as part of a school science project, this is a must-have. (Even my four-year-old thinks it’s fun to zoom the sky around with the mouse.)
I’ve written before about several other free astronomy applications, which each have their strengths and are still worth checking out. Google gets points for its integrated earth-sky interface, extensive descriptive content, and ability to create “sightseeing” tours to save and share. Those interested in an application for real stargazing, however, will find Stellarium a better choice, since Google Sky lacks such basics as a way to set user location and time or view the horizon line. If you just want to immerse yourselves in the cosmos, though, Google Sky will deliver.
(When you’re tired of staring at the screen, pick up a copy of Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe, about an astronomer at the turn of the twentieth century whose work was key to determining whether galaxies existed beyond our own Milky Way. It’s a small but fascinating biography of one of the almost-forgotten pioneers of women in science.)