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Google updates Google Sky application to give astronomers online access to cosmic events, historical space maps and virtual tours

Search-engine and internet giant Google has updated its Google Earth ‘Sky' application, offering scientists, students and amateur stargazers updates on cosmological events, historical space maps and virtual tours of the sky.

Google Earth is the company's global mapping software application, which any internet user can download and use to explore different regions of the world - either from afar or by zooming in to a distance of just a few metres.

The company added the Sky add-on last year, and it's new Sky update adds current cosmological events (updates on what exactly is happening in the sky, such as details of comets and asteroids), featured observatories - with images from observatory satellites in different wavelengths of the sky, including x-ray images, infrared images and so on; and historical maps, including for example David Rumsey's historical maps of the sky. (Based on drawings by an Italian engraver Giovanni Maria Cassini dating back to 1792, these display how interpretations and concepts of the sky have changed over time.)

Additional new features include podcasts about stars and galaxies, a grand tour of the sky that guides beginners through 100 spots in the sky, and a community layer that shows the best sky content submitted by users around the world.

On the developer front, Google has also unveiled its Sky API (Application Programming Interface). Aimed specifically at developers, this allows such programmers to code their own sky mashups using Google Earth's Sky imagery.

To explore Sky in Google Earth, users must first download the latest version of Google Earth, and then click the ‘Switch to Sky' button on the toolbar at the top of the screen.

Google Earth itself also looks likely to host a 3D virtual online world in future, thanks to the firm's purchase last April of a popular 3D modeling program named SketchUp. Google is encouraging developers to use this app to build 3D layers on top of Google Earth, even providing these creative types with a website called 3D Warehouse, which they can use to demonstrate and store the creations they've come up with using Sketch Up. In terms of its usage, real estate companies for example have already begun demoing virtual versions of their buildings, which are for sale in the real world, on Google Earth. They can do this because SketchUp lets them build full models of their apartments, right up to and including kitchen appliances.

An Arabic version of Google Earth is available.

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