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Google joins project that may let it offer views of the universe

January 08, 2007|Curt Woodward | The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Google has already planted its flag on Earth, the moon and Mars. The universe could be next.

The Internet search company has struck a partnership with scientists building a huge sky-scanning telescope, with hopes of helping the public gain access to digital footage of asteroids, supernovas and distant galaxies.

"Frankly, I could see the day when they would be our sort of window to the general public," said Donald Sweeney, manager of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST. The project is headquartered in Tucson.

Officials also say Google's technical expertise and vast data-processing capacity will be an invaluable help.

The 8.4-meter LSST is expected to begin surveying the sky in 2013 from a mountaintop in Chile. It will continuously scan space, taking a series of 15-second exposures that allow it to cover the sky every three nights. Officials say the telescope will open "a movie-like window" on nearby asteroids and far-off exploding stars and help explore the mysterious "dark energy" believed to fuel the universe's expansion.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google's stature should also bring the project more attention, which could be crucial as the $350-million telescope competes for public and private money.

In that respect, LSST officials may have learned a lesson from projects that have captured broader public imagination, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, said W. Henry Lambright, professor of public administration at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

"If they want to finance this thing and keep it going and maintained, they've got to make this not just the astronomers' telescope but the people's telescope," he said.

Google already offers detailed online maps of the Earth, the moon and Mars.

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