While computer monitors and TV screens continue to become the size of small stars, there's no beating the real thing short of visiting a planetarium, or lately--Google Earth. Yesterday Google unveiled the second iteration of Google Sky for Google Earth at the Astronomical Society's annual conference in Austin, Texas. Among the more notable additions is podcasting that's been integrated into the Earth and Sky layer. These short 90-second podcasts will tell you anything that's coming up this week (or that's historically taken place), and you can listen to them right from the app via a small Flash player.
In addition to the podcasts, Google's now including a smattering of map variants including a really neat Rumsey one from the 17th century that's a healthy reminder of how far celestial cartography's come. It comes from the same David Rumsey collection found in Google Earth, and when overlaid on current constellation maps, it's fascinating to view the similarities, despite the depiction of constellations as giants and creatures from geese and dragons, all the way to giant crabs. There's also a new feature called "Getting to Know Sky" which walks new users though some of the features, including a how-to on navigating the expanse, although veteran Google Earth users need not apply.
The real beef of the announcement isn't for end users as much as developers. Google's now including the sky imagery in the Google Maps API. It's already made its way onto a tweaked version of Google Maps for the iPod touch and iPhone, and we're likely to seep into Google Maps as a mapplet in the near future.