Google Sky Wavelength Slider Mashup

Sky Wavelength slider in Google EarthIn yet another example of the power of KML and Google Earth’s powerful developer features, someone has developed a cool new feature which lets you view multiple wavelengths of stellar objects as an animation in the Sky mode. Robert Simpson is a PhD student in Astronomy who posted the new feature at his blog Orbiting Frog. What he did was create a KML file which when you zoom in on an area of the night sky – it fetches imagery from the NASA Skyview database. (Note:– it can take a while to load because it is loading multiple images in different wavelengths of light for that area of the sky from the NASA server.) Robert’s application overlays the images and uses the time slider to allow you to view each wavelength as an animation. Currently the time slider just shows a different date for each wavelength (kind of confusing, but he is re-purposing the time slider for a different application). However, the resulting effect is quite amazing! Just drag the time slider in the upper center and you can see the images in different wavelengths. Move to a new area of the sky to load a different set of images (each time you move it has to load a different set).
By the way, Sky also has a number of high resolution images built in to the layers from different observatories showing different wavelengths of light. Some of the images are very high resolution, others are simply amazing alternate views of objects we are used to only seeing in the optical wavelength. If you look at the layers in the lower left and open the Featured Observatories layer folder you will see a list showing:

  • Hubble Showcase – Optical wavelength

  • Spitzer Infrared Showcase

  • GALEX Ultraviolet Showcase

  • Chandra X-Ray Showcase

  • WMAP Microwave Sky – Full sky in microwave

  • IRIS Infrared Sky – Full sky in infrared

Important tips: If you select one of the showcases, you need to look for a corresponding placemark and click on the image in the description bubble to fly to the location. Then make sure the image layer is turned on by selecting “Show this layer“. Turn off each layer when you are done so you can return to seeing the original imagery. Advanced tip: This is a little-known trick built in to Google Earth/Sky – If you select the layer on the lower left (it will be highlighted), you can then use the transparency slider above the layer pane to change transparency for the imagery in the given layer. This is another way to compare wavelength imagery in Google Sky, and has a very cool effect. You can also do that with Robert’s SkyView overlay to compare imagery.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. As much as anything this KML is an example of what you *could* do. I decided it was best to put out a limited version of this hack. On my own computer I have a KML which loads a much higher resolution image across ALL of the Skyview survey bands. That’s a lot of data, and until I’ve figured out how to cache the images (and thus not batter the Skyview servers) it seems wise to keep things restricted.
    If anyone knows
    a) a really good way to organise these cached images
    or b) a way to hack the time slider to not say the time but rather the wavelength
    then I’d really love to hear what you’ve got to say.
    Thanks for the post guys!

  2. Just saw the post on google re a web version of SKY –

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