November 16, 2012
Google Takes You On A Tour Of 100,000 Stars
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Sometimes it´s good to get a little perspective on life and where we fit on this tiny blue dot. Those looking for such perspective would do well to check out Google´s latest Chrome Experiment, 100,000 stars.As the name implies, this new project is similar to an interstellar Street View, whisking visitors from star to star, giving brief explanations as they go along. It wouldn´t be a Chrome experiment without some fancy new technical footwork behind it, of course, and Google is highlighting some of their browser´s features as well as highlighting the closest stars to Earth.
“Visualizing the exact location of every star in the galaxy is a problem of, well, galactic proportions,” writes Aaron Koblin from the Creative Lab in this introductory blog post.
“With over 200 billion stars, capturing every detail of the Milky Way currently defies scientists and laptops alike. However, using imagery and data from a range of sources, including NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), we were recently able to take one small step in that direction by plotting the location of the stars closest to our sun.”
As visitors scroll and zoom through the Milky Way, they´ll be able to click on the names of specific stars. This takes them straight to the star and a layout of information about this stellar object.
The ESA and NASA lent a hand in placing each of the stars accurately on the map, and much of the information is taken from Wikipedia. There´s even a guided tour section to get visitors started along in 100,000 stars.
This is where one can really find some perspective: The tour starts with our Sun, explains just how far away it is from us, (it would take a jet plane 18 years to reach it) then explains how much farther away the rest of the stars are from Earth.
Google says 100,000 stars presents an accurate and realistic view of the stars on the stellar plane.
“The most challenging part was ensuring that the visualization was accurate – we didn´t know what it would look like before we made it,” said Val Klump, a copyrighter and producer for Creative Labs, speaking to TPM in an interview. “There was no frame of reference that we could double check against.”
While Google claims the scale of these stars is accurate, they also mention that the fully zoomed-out view of the galaxy is an “artists rendition.”
On the technical side, Google´s Creative Lab dipped into Chrome´s support for WebGL, CSS3D and Web Audio to achieve the stunning visualizations and smooth scrolling. Like any Chrome Experiment, 100,000 stars is best viewed in Chrome, which natively supports these features. Google´s blog does mention that the site will also work with Mozilla´s Firefox. However, Apple's Safari has been left out in the cold.
All told, it took the Creative Labs team nearly 5 weeks to complete 100,000 Stars, said Klump.
Anyone wanting to take a trip through space will likely be tied to their desktop or laptop for a while. According to Klump, the Creative Labs team has no plans to turn 100,000 stars into a standalone app, keeping it web bound for as long as they decide to host it.