Microsoft is going head-to-head with Google by releasing a beta version of an astronomy viewing tool.

WorldWide Telescope, which is in direct competition to Google's Sky application, allows users to view images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center and Spitzer Space Telescope.

Using the cursor, it's possible to roam freely through the universe and zoom in or out as well as viewing the locations of current and past plants and even looking at the universe through different wavelengths of light. Alternatively, make use of a guided tour which features a number of different narrators.

"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," said Bill Gates.

"WorldWide Telescope brings to life a dream that many of us in Microsoft Research have pursued for years. Where is Saturn in the sky, in relation to the moon? Does the Milky Way really have a supermassive black hole in the centre of the galaxy? With the universe at your fingertips, you can discover the answers for yourself," added Curtis Wong, manager of Microsoft’s Next Media Research Group.

Microsoft hopes the software, which is currently available for free, will become widely used as an educational tool.

Visit Broadband Advisor for the latest news and reviews about the internet and internet tools.

Visit PC Advisor's Microsoft spotlight for the latest Microsoft news and opinion