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Google Sky Rises Above Google Earth

However, the launch that allows the previous plug-in to be seen in a separate Web browser is partially being eclipsed by a lawsuit.

Google on Thursday said that Google Sky, previously a star-viewing option in the Google Earth desktop application, can now be viewed on its own in a Web browser.

"Sky in Google Earth, which launched last August, was originally available to our 350 million Google Earth users," said Google product manager Lior Ron in a blog post. "This release brings the universe to every browser and makes Sky accessible to just about anyone with an Internet connection -- from school children to professional astronomers -- in 26 different languages."

Google Sky's escape from Google Earth was engineered by Diego Gavinowich, a programmer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who was a finalist in Google's Latin America Code Jam. He joined Google for a three-month internship and was given the task of coding a Web version of Google Sky during his stay.

According to Ron, Gavinowich completed the assignment with the help of some other Google engineers on their 20% time -- Google allows employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects outside of the scope of their job descriptions.

However, the Google Sky launch is partially being eclipsed by a lawsuit. Last month, Jonathan Cobb, a former Google contract worker, filed a $25 million lawsuit in Atlanta, claiming that Google Sky was his idea and that Google stole it.

Google on Wednesday requested that its deadline to respond to the lawsuit be extended to March 28.

"We think the complaint is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it," said a Google spokesperson via e-mail.

Google may be able to prove that it was working on Google Sky before Cobb's arrival. In his Google Earth-oriented blog called Ogle Earth, Stefen Geens quotes Alberto Conti, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Center in Baltimore as having claimed to have discussed Google Sky as a concept with John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, in February 2006.

Cobb, in his lawsuit, claims that "beginning in 2006" he started working for Google as a contractor.

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