Google Sky
The black boxes in Google Sky, WikiSky, and Microsoft World-Wide Telescope are not 'censored' by NASA

Black Square in Google Sky
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This region of the sky is located in the constellation of Orion. Click on the picture to be taken to Google Sky.


Much is made of the fact that there is a blank region in Orion that appears on Google Sky, WikiSky and Microsoft WorldWide Telescope. The region in question can be seen here.

What is it?

The presence of the blank square is undeniable. So, why is it there? Why is approximately the same region being 'censored' by three major online planetarium programs? Did the Men In Black come knocking on Google's door?

The truth of the matter is far more mundane.


The images that make up the visual portion of these online planetarium sites are all from the same source… the DSS (Digitized Sky Survey). The original DSS1 was a high-resolution scan (digitization) of photographic plates. For the northern sky, a 1958 sky survey from the Palomar Observatory2 was the source. For the Southern skies, Southern Sky Atlas and its Equatorial Extension (together known as the SERC-J) and the southern Galactic Plane survey (SERC-V), from the UK Schmidt Telescope at Anglo-Australian Observatory, were used.

The so-called 'missing' block comes from the Palomar data.

Wait, when did you say?

1958. The base data that appears in Google Sky, WikiSky and Microsoft World-Wide Telescope is from 1958. These programs are augmented with other data sources, but the block appears in the DSS data.

So, this means that the conspiracy theorists would have you believe that NASA and other branches of the government are trying to hide something in data that is 52 years old3.

Why is there a "blacked out" square?

Ah, but is there a 'blacked out' square? As it turns out, no. That one block of data has some apparent issues, since it drops out of the interface of three different online planetarium programs. However, it is possible to directly query the data from the original source, the Space Science Telescope Institute. This is the source used in the video below.


Here is a good video on YouTube debunking the 'censorship' claim by nutwithatheory titled "The Google Sky Blank Spot — A Complete Guide to the Cover-up & Conspiracy Theory"[1]. The author takes you through step by step, and shows you exactly where to get the 'missing' data.

An astute reader points out that a fourth online planetarium does not have a blank square in this area, and that is SkyMap. In fact, you can see 'behind the square' at this link.

Imperfect Data

In addition to all of the other objections, the idea that the DSS data had to be edited fails on another count. The data are not perfect. This is an implied property where people imply that NASA wouldn't publish these images with errors in them. The fact of the matter is that the DSS imagery have all kinds of image artifacts.

Go back to the link to google sky, and zoom out until you see the stars in Orion and Sirius. Once you have these, look for a round blue object between Sirius and Orion, sitting just above Sirius, and zoom in on it, until you see this.

That is the underside of the telescope at Palomar. It is an image that appears on the original photographic plates, and is a result of a double-exposure or light leak onto the plate. The plate was not discarded because it was felt that the data was not obscured enough, and was too valuable to discard. There are several of these in the DSS data, along with some other interesting imaging artifacts.

The telescope imaging process introduced certain artifacts into the plates such as varying levels of brightness, noise, and color saturation, as well as vignetting: a darkening of the edges and the corners of each plate, which needed correction in order to generate a clear and seamless image. Terapixel programmatically removed these anomalies, stitched and smoothed images, and then created image pyramids for visualization in WorldWide Telescope (WWT). [2]


Even if we were to believe the conspiracy theorists who claim that planetarium programs have been censored by nefarious powers that be, it remains a very simple matter to stand in your backyard and gaze in the direction of the allegedly hidden coordinates. All the censorship in the world can't cover up the actual sky, nor can it ensure the silence of millions of professional and amateur astronomers around the world.


The claim of censorship fails because the data are available from the Space Science Telescope Institute as well as The data is over 50 years old, so whatever a censor was hiding would have had to have been visible at that point. Also, censorship conspiracies are dubious from a practical standpoint, because hiding something in software does nothing toward hiding it in the actual sky, as people (including astronomers) can simply look up at supposedly "censored" regions of the heavens.

1. "nutwithatheory" "YouTube - The Google Sky Blank Spot — A Complete Guide to the Cover-up & Conspiracy Theory" YouTube. Web. 18 Mar. 2011. <>.
2. "Terapixel - Microsoft Research." Microsoft Research - Turning Ideas into Reality. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.


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