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Spacing out with Google's spectacular map of 100,000 Stars

November 14, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • A screengrab from 100,000 Stars, the latest Chrome Experiment from Google.
A screengrab from 100,000 Stars, the latest Chrome Experiment from Google. (Courtesy of Google )

Wow.

That pretty much sums up our reaction to 100,000 Stars, the newest Chrome Experiment from Google.

It's sure to amaze stargazers, art lovers, and anyone who is dazzled by the power of technology and the vastness of the universe.

This latest addition to Google's collection of Chrome Experiments is essentially a 3-D map of the 100,000 stars closest to our sun. Using 100,000 Stars you can zoom in and out and around our galaxy, and even spin it around to enjoy it from different angles.

As you zoom in toward the sun, you will marvel at how tiny the Earth is in the context of even this small sliver of the universe, and as you zoom out and look and spin the galaxy around you will marvel at the beauty of space.

There are real things to be learned from the 100,000 Stars experiment. The names of the most prominent stars will appear on the map, and if you click on the star's name, Google provides you with more information on the star (pulled from Wikipedia) as well as a digital rendition of what it looks like.

As you zoom in closer to the sun, you will encounter the Oort cloud, a spherical cloud of comets that lies about one light year away from the sun. Zoom in further and you'll see the orbits of the planets, and then eventually, the glowing ball of molten light that is our sun. It undulates on the map.

But don't think of 100,000 Stars as purely educational. Interacting with the map can be meditative as well. The ambient soundtrack for the experiment, provided by Sam Hulick who composed music for the video game "Mass Effect," ads to that feeling. The visual proof that we are minuscule beings on a tiny planet, circling a small star, in a vast solar system also helps put your life in perspective.

It may sound like I'm getting carried away here, but I'm not the only one.

"As you explore this experiment, we hope you share our wonder for how large the galaxy really is," writes Aaron Koblin of Google's Creative Lab in a blog post. "It's incredible to think that this mist of 100,000 measurable stars is a tiny fraction of the sextillions of stars in the broader universe."

The map was created by the Google Data Team, using imagery and data from several sources including NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). And the Google blog post notes that the experiment uses Google Chrome's support for WebGL, CSS3D and Web Audio.

To check it out for yourself, go to workshop.chromeexperiments.com/stars.

I suggest starting with a tour of the application to help you figure out how to navigate the galaxy. (You'll find that option on the top left-hand side of the screen). Then put on some headphones, relax and space out.


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