Will Google Sky kill stargazing?

A remarkable new tool for astronomers was launched with much fanfare today – a new feature within the Google Earth program that allows users to view and zoom in on the night sky.

I cannot recall a space story causing quite as much excitement with a flurry of press releases appearing from the many different observatories and institutions that contributed to Google Sky.

I’ve written in the news section of this site today about this program, including an overview of its main features and my initial impressions. But at the risk of sounding like a heretic, I got to wondering whether this might be another nail in the coffin of amateur astronomy.

Many of us around the word are being denied a decent view of the heavens thanks to light pollution. At the same time, it seems that more and more people are being tempted to migrate into a virtual world where friends are online and home is Second Life.

How much more tempting will it be for people to switch to virtual astronomy? Why fumble around at a telescope in the dark and cold, looking for fuzzy objects you can barely see, when you could be scanning Google’s sky in the warm, finding objects with ease, then zooming in to view them in the all the splendour and brilliance provided by Hubble’s photo-enhancement team. As in the screenshot of the globular cluster M13 in Hercules, pictured above.

OK, I am being somewhat controversial, even mischievous. But I would be very interested to hear what others think. Add a comment to let us all know!

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