Google Presents an Interactive Visualization of 100,000 Stars

Stargaz­ers of all ages will enjoy the lat­est Google exper­i­ment designed for Chrome. One Hun­dred Thou­sand Stars (access it here) is an inter­ac­tive map of space includ­ing the loca­tions of—you guessed it—more than 100,000 stars. (Note: Before you expe­ri­ence the map, you will need to down­load the Chrome brows­er.)

Ren­dered in three dimen­sions, our know­able, mapped galaxy is both stag­ger­ing­ly vast and easy to nav­i­gate. With imagery and data from NASA and the Euro­pean Space Agency, Google’s Chrome Work­shop built a 3D mod­el of our lit­tle cor­ner of the uni­verse.

You can pre­view One Hun­dred Thou­sand Stars above. Or you can enter the map, click on the upper left cor­ner, and take a tour of your own. You’ll start just beyond the stars that astronomers have stud­ied and named. Swipe all the way into our own solar sys­tem. The first thing you’ll notice is that Plu­to isn’t includ­ed, invit­ing a new mnemon­ic for the plan­et names (My Very Earnest Moth­er Just Served Us Nec­tarines?). That hazy cloud about a light year from the sun is the Oort Cloud, a mass of comets that’s thought to mark the out­er edge of the sun’s grav­i­ta­tion­al pull.

Swipe out a bit to see 87 rel­a­tive­ly near­by stars. Click on their names to read about them. Sir­ius is the bright­est in the night sky, part­ly because of its own lumi­nos­i­ty but also because it is com­par­a­tive­ly close to Earth. Vega is so well stud­ied that its bright­ness is used as the base­line to clas­si­fy stars accord­ing to their col­or.

Swipe out fur­ther for a galac­tic view of the Milky Way. It appears as a beau­ti­ful illu­mi­nat­ed disc cen­tered around a bright bulge. This shape is called the Galac­tic Plane. Click and drag to tilt the disc this way and that. Total­ing to some 400 bil­lion stars and as many plan­ets, the Milky Way does in fact bulge at its cen­ter, though astronomers think that the true core is real­ly an intense black hole.

Notice the tiny icon to “Tog­gle Spec­tral Index” up in the left cor­ner. On one set­ting, each cloud is pix­i­lat­ed to high­light its col­or (a key iden­ti­fi­er for astronomers).

Here’s where it helps to know a lit­tle about stars and how they form. Stars begin as clouds of most­ly hydro­gen, becom­ing grad­u­al­ly so dense through the process of nuclear fusion that even grav­i­ty can­not make them fly apart.

The amount of light a star gives off is mea­sured as dif­fer­ent col­ors and tem­per­a­tures. “Hot­ter” stars are younger and give off more blue light, and so are indi­cat­ed as blue. “Cool” stars are old­er, give off less blue light, and are indi­cat­ed as red.

By the way, the music behind One Hun­dred Thou­sand Stars is by Sam Hulick, whose music gamers may rec­og­nize  from Mass Effect.

We’re adding One Hun­dred Thou­sand Stars to our new col­lec­tion: 200 Free K‑12 Edu­ca­tion­al Resources: Video Lessons, Mobile Apps, Free Books & More.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site and her blog,

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