Mapping the universe with open source software

Astronomers at New York City's Hayden Planetarium and Rose Center for Earth and Space think space exploration should be easily accessible to anyone. To make that possible, they offer an interactive atlas of the universe that anyone can download for free.

The project, funded by NASA, originally began in 1998 as the Digital Galaxy Project, and was intended to create an accurate, interactive, 3-D representation of the Milky Way galaxy. In 2000, Hayden's Department of Astrophysics decided to expand the project and rename it Digital Universe to reflect its new goal to map the rest of the known universe. They discovered, however, that the software they had developed was not open source, and the resulting restrictions prevented them from adding the additional capabilities they needed to continue their project. To complicate matters, because the software ran on an SGI supercomputer, it was virtually inaccessible.