Space, the final frontier, is about to be inundated with sightseers. Microsoft has unveiled a new website which brings the outer reaches of the universe to the fingertips of anyone with internet access and a computer.
The application knits together images from powerful ground and space-based telescopes across the world, allowing users to roam seamlessly across the solar system, galaxy and beyond.
The Worldwide Telescope site also offers guided tours, hosted by astronomers and academics, of galactic destinations such as the Milky Way, the Eta Carina Nebula and the darker reaches of the galaxy.
Users can choose from a variety of telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, the Spitzer Space Telescope, to access detailed images of stars, constellations and space dust normally reserved for Nasa scientists.
The free service, which can run on both PCs and Macs, also lets viewers switch between different light wavelengths, revealing structures hidden to the naked eye.
Roy Gould, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics - a partner in the site, said the application could have a "profound impact on the way we view the universe".
"Users can see the X-ray view of the sky, zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then cross-fade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago."
Developed by Microsoft’s research arm, WorldWide Telescope can display the locations of planets in the past, present, or future, but is not presented in real time.
Bill Gates, the Chairman of Microsoft , said the site was a powerful tool for science and education.
"By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe."
The application, similar to the popular Google Earth which shows satellite images of the surface of the planet, has already made a strong impression on technology bloggers.
Robert Scoble, an American blogger and former Microsoft employee, claimed he shed a tear while watching a demonstration of WorldWide Telescope earlier this year.
"I realized the way I look at the world was about to change... It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had an emotional impact on me like that."
But not everyone was equally moved.
Commenting on Mr Scoble’s blog, RBA said: "After playing with it for a few minutes, I think that the most remarkable feature (other than a nice interface design) is the "community" option.
"The rest of features - again leaving aside a very nice interface - are already present in desktop software apps such as TheSky or the much fancier StarryNight (Pro Plus)."