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Google Earth to Get New 'Sky' Feature

Popular mapping service Google Earth will launch a new feature called Sky, a "virtual telescope" that the search engine hopes will turn millions of Internet users into stargazers.

Google (GOOG), which created Google Earth to give Internet users an astronaut's view that can zoom to street level, said the service would be a playground for learning about space.

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," said Dr. Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who co-led the institute's Sky team.

"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."

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Like Google Earth, Sky will enable users to float and zoom in on over 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. Users will view the sky as seen from earth.

It has created different layers which will show the life of a star, constellations, high-resolution images provided by the Hubble Space Telescope and a users guide to galaxies.

A backyard astronomy layer lets users click through stars, galaxies and nebulae visible to the eye, binoculars and small telescopes.

The imagery was stitched together from numerous third parties including the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre and the Anglo-Australian Observatory. The imagery will be updated over time.

"We're excited to provide users with rich astronomical imagery and enhanced content that enables them to both learn about what they're seeing and tell their own stories," said Google Product Manager Lior Ron in a statement.

"By working with some of the industry's leading experts, we've been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope."

Google Earth launched in June 2005 to combine its search service with satellite imagery, maps and 3D building to display geographical information of the world. The search engine says over 250 million people have downloaded it.

The Sky service will be available on all Google Earth domains, in 13 languages from later on Wednesday.

Users will need to download the newest version of Google Earth, which can be found at www.earth.google.com.