Use Google Earth to Explore the Cosmos Beyond our Planet

Sky in Google Earth Screenshot
Sky in Google Earth Screenshot. Google

If you've ever used Google Earth, you know what a fun time you can have exploring the many different places on our planet. There is also a starry sky component to this useful app. It's called Google Sky and shows you the stars, planets, and galaxies as seen from Earth! It's available for most flavors of computer operating systems and easy to download and use with the Google Earth application. 

Think of Sky on Google Earth as a virtual telescope that lets you float through the cosmos at your own pace.

You can use it to view and navigate through hundreds of millions of individual stars and galaxies, explore the planets, and much more. High-resolution imagery and informative overlays create a unique playground for visualizing and learning about space.  The interface and navigation are similar to that of standard Google Earth steering, including dragging, zooming, search, "My Places," and layer selection. Use it in your installation of Google Earth for the best experience. The moment you open it up, you're greeted with a starry sky and a celestial object such as the Andromeda Galaxy. 

The app has a number of layers you can switch on, depending on what you want to explore. 

Here are some of the Google Sky layers available:

Constellations: The constellations layer connects the points of constellations through space, labeling each with its given name. Users can learn about the stars that make up their favorite constellations.

Backyard Astronomy. This layer lets users click through a variety of placemarks and information on stars, galaxies, and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars, and small telescopes. This layer is useful for the amateur astronomer who may benefit from a comprehensive, organized way to reference fragments of the night sky.

Featured Observatories. This layer contains imagery from some of the world's most famous and productive observatories. Included are Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and many others. The views from these observatories range across the electromagnetic spectrum, and show you how objects look in many wavelengths of light. 

Our Solar System: Explore the Sun, Moon, and planets in as much detail as you want! Images from spacecraft and ground-based observatories give you a sense of "being there". 

The Education Center contains teachable lessons to learn the sky, including the Users Guide to the Galaxies, a virtual tourism layer, and the Life of a Star. 

Historical Star Maps gives you a look at how astronomers before us saw and charted the sky.

To access Sky in Google Earth, you need to download the newest version of Google Earth, available online. Then, once it's installed on your system, look for a dropdown box at the top of the window that looks like a little planet with a ring around it. That's all you need to get started using Sky on Google Earth. It's a great and free tool for astronomy learning. The virtual community shares data, images, and lesson plans.

 

You can also view Google Sky in your favorite browser. 

Objects in ​Sky are clickable, and you can explore them up-close or from a distance. The best way to learn the app is to click on the "Touring Sky" box in the left column under "Welcome to Sky". You'll learn all about the app and what you can do with it to explore the stars, planets, and galaxies.

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 in the Google Visiting Faculty Program.

Google and its partners continually update the app with new data and images. 

 

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.