Microsoft offered a sneak peak back in February, and as of Tuesday the public beta of WorldWide Telescope has been made available, according to a Press Release issued by Microsoft.

The online virtual telescope has been created in response to Google’s launch of Google Sky a few years ago, and takes things to the next level with a huge database of high resolution images from various stars, galaxies, and other non-earthly entities. Ray Gould spoke about WorldWide Telescope back in February and noted that some of “the best images from the worlds greatest telescopes from earth and in space are woven them seamlessly to produce a holistic view of the Universe.”

“The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe,” said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe.”

WorldWide Telescope, Much like Google’s Earth & Sky products, is offered free and is currently available for download. While the user interface is quite different, the overall experience is very similar. WorldWide Telescope has a more modern and sleek interface than Google Sky, but in the end both have about the same to offer.

I prefer the Microsoft interface with easy graphic thumbnails to take you directly to the celestial body. Personally I find that this new beta release offers a higher level visual experience, which is why I would likely turn to it in the future.