If you are an astronomy buff, there are plenty of star maps you can find in print or online (or even on your Smartphone). But if you are a science fiction fan (or writer), you probably find those maps frustrating because they are flat. Two stars next to each other on the map might be light years apart in the axis coming out of the page. A star 3.2 light years from Sol (our sun) looks the same on the map as a star 100 light years away.
The Gaia satellite (an ESA project) orbits beyond the moon and is carefully mapping the 3D position of every point of light it sees. [Charlie Hoey] took the data for about 2 million stars and used WebGL to give you a 3D view of the data in your web browser.
We aren’t sure how practical it is and watch out for significant lag when you zoom if you have an older CPU and graphic card. But it looks interesting and is a good example of browser-based data visualization. You can read more about Gaia (or watch the video below) and note that they plan to map a billion stars. The sobering thing to note is that’s about 1% of the stars in the area of interest. The Gaia camera is technically interesting, as well (check out the second video, below).