This is the final frontier, or at least it has been close.
One of Switzerland’s most prestigious universities has released open-source beta software Tuesday. It allows virtual visits to the cosmos, including past the Moon, Saturn, exoplanets, and galaxies.
Virtual Reality Universe Project or VIRUP, is a program that pulls together the largest data set in the universe to create panoramic, three-dimensional visualizations of space.
The virtual map was created by software engineers, astrophysicists, and experimental museology specialists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). It can be viewed using individual VR gear, immersion systems such as panoramic cinema with 3D glasses, planetarium dome screens, or simply on a computer for two-dimensional viewing.
Jean-Paul Kneib is the director of EPFL’s astrophysics laboratory.
Imagine Google Earth, but for the universe. Computer algorithms create images from terabytes and can produce images as close to one meter (about 3 feet) or as far as the infinite distance — just like if you sat back and looked at the entire universe.
VIRUP is free and open to all. However, it requires at least one computer. VR equipment or 3D capabilities are best for visualization. It is intended to attract both scientists and the general public who want to see the data that they have collected, as well as people who are interested in exploring the sky virtually.
The beta version is still in development and cannot be used on Mac computers. The download of the content and software might seem difficult for less-skilled users. However, space on a computer will be important. A smaller version of the content that is available to the public is known as the “best-of highlights” version. It can be quantified in gigabytes. Astronomy enthusiasts with more memory may choose to download more.
The project draws information from eight databases, which include at least 4,500 exoplanets, millions of galaxies and hundreds of millions space objects. There are also more than 1.5 million light sources from the Milky Way. The sky is the limit when it comes to data potential: Future databases could include objects such as pulsars further into the galaxy or asteroids from our solar system.