Microsoft has announced that its WorldWide Telescope (WWT) project is being offloaded from Microsoft’s research division and onto the American Astronomical Society (ASA), the professional body for astronomers in North America.

To recap, WWT began as a research project way back in 2007, and involved Microsoft collaborating with academic institutions to provide a “unified contextual visualization of the universe.” Incorporating five main modes — Earth, Sky, Planets, Panoramas, and Solar System — the software can be used by anyone to search outer space.

Back in July last year, Microsoft announced that it was turning the WWT into an open-source project by making the code available on GitHub for anyone to use. That was Microsoft’s first move toward migrating the project out into a separate entity, and the next stage in the process is to pass the baton over to the AAS, though Microsoft will still be a partner in the project alongside other scientists and academics.

“With WWT’s new life in this long-established organization, we can work together to inspire scientists, heighten scientific understandings, and enrich our experience of the universe,” explained Jonathan Fay, principal software development engineer at Microsoft Research, in a blog post.

The WWT is also now hosted on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, as the company first announced last June. And this is a key part of the continued development of the WWT as a global, collaborative project.

“If Azure had been available when WWT was in development, it would have accelerated the project and its deployment; Microsoft Azure allows us to manage our global users and easily provision resources for new projects and collaborations as needed,” continued Fay. “With Microsoft Azure, we can keep up with cutting-edge technologies, software, and data — free from the limitations of physical server management.”

Space exploration is increasingly opening beyond the confines of government agencies and into the private enterprise realm, with Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk each backing various programs of their own. But for most people, space remains something to be observed from the terra firma of Planet Earth, and projects such as the WWT help open up the solar system to millions.

“Through it all, our hope was to inspire a new community of users and a next generation of scientists,” added Fay. “I’ve seen firsthand how WWT can inspire new minds and foster exciting understanding. With our new home at AAS, we look forward to continuing our work for years to come.”

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