While browsing Slashdot (/.: News For Nerds. Stuff That Matters) they posted a story about a new piece of software by Microsoft which will turn your computer into an observatory. The software is called World Wide Telescope (WWT for short). So, me being a bit of an amateur astronomer and geek, of course I downloaded it... http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/Home.aspx
It uses a combination of images from the various sources like Hubble to pull together a great view of the night sky. You can explore on your own or take a guided tour. You can also create your own guided tours which is really good for those that know something of astronomy and want to show it off for their friends and family. It works like Google Earth and like Google Earth requires an Internet connection. For those of you still on dialup (Apollos) this program will not be fun... The datasets are HUGE. Once loaded though, it really is grand. As part of the download, you also get WWT: Mars. WWT: Mars is a scaled down version of WWT that focuses in on Mars. It too uses high resolution images from the various Mars probes we sent. WWT is well worth the download just for the Mars trip.
It also features linkages to electronic telescopes using the ASCOM Platform which means it can be used to control those telescopes. I just so happen to have one being the ultimate geek...
The setup of the scope was pretty much painless but the tracking must still be in beta. It had trouble tracking to Orion and Polaris. Once I corrected its RA and DEC, it finally was able to get me in the ball park.
Overall, I give this program a huge thumbs up for the budding amateur astronomer in all of us. It is a great teaching tool to get kids interested in our Universe..