The Universe in 3D
The Sun is at the large orange dot at the center of the three-dimensional atlas of the Universe above.
Initially, the local stars around the Sun are shown, color coded depending on whether they are cool red stars or hot blue ones. Gradually, the view will slowly zoom out, revealing open clusters of stars in our galaxy (red), then the whole flat disk of the Milky Way with globular clusters of stars around it (purple), and then the Local Group of other galaxies around our own (blue).
Once the view zooms out to show both the Sun and the center of the Milky Way, a white line is shown connecting the two, to give a sense of the scale of the Milky Way.
At any time you can click and drag the simulation to rotate it manually. You can use the slider at the top to manually zoom in and out, or use the scroll-wheel on your mouse. Hovering over objects will often show more information about them, and double-clicking will take you to a full description of them.
The simulation above only shows astronomical objects which we are able to observe and catalogue. This means that it is biased towards showing nearby objects, as these are bright and prominent in the sky.
It may appear that the Sun is at the center of a small spherical swarm of stars, and that open star clusters form a larger swarm, also centered around the Sun.
The side of the Milky Way opposite to the Sun may appear entirely devoid of stars and star clusters. Of course, the whole of the Milky Way is full of stars and clusters, but many – in fact most – remain unknown.
So, the simulation not only shows how the objects of the night sky fit into a 3D structure around the Sun, but also the limitations of how far out into the Universe we can see.
The positions of the objects shown here were taken from a wide variety of sources.
The positions of deep sky objects were taken from the NGC2000.0 catalog (Sinnott 1998). Where possible, their distances were taken from the DAML02 database of open clusters (Dias et al. 2002), or from Bill Harris's Catalog of Globular Clusters (Harris 1996). Distances to other objects were determined using queries to NASA Extragalactic Database (NED) based on any available data in the literature.