Swiss introduces virtual reality software for the universe

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (AP) – The final frontier has rarely looked closer than this, at least almost.

Researchers at a leading university in Switzerland will launch an open source beta program on Tuesday that enables virtual tours of the universe, including the International Space Station, beyond the Moon, Saturn or exoplanets and galaxies.

The program, called the Virtual Reality Universe Project, or VIRUP, brings together what researchers call the largest dataset in the universe to create 3D panoramic views of space.

Software engineers, astrophysicists, and experts in experimental museology from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have come together to create a virtual map that can be viewed using individual virtual reality equipment, and immersive systems such as panoramic cinemas with 3D glasses and dome screens. , or simply on a computer for 2D viewing.

“The novelty of this project was to put all the available data in a frame, where we can see the universe at different scales: near us, around the Earth, around the solar system, at the level of the Milky Way, to see through it,” declared Jean-Paul Kneip, director of the Physics Laboratory Astronomical in EPFL, Universe and time until the beginning, the so-called Big Bang.

Think of a kind of Google Earth, but of the universe. Computer algorithms collect terabytes of data and produce images that can appear close to a meter (about three feet), or nearly infinitely far away, as if you were sitting and looking at the entire visible universe.

VIRUP is available to everyone for free, although it requires at least one computer and is best viewed with virtual reality equipment or 3D capabilities. Its goal is to attract a wide range of visitors, both scientists looking to visualize the data they continue to collect, and large audiences looking to explore the sky virtually.

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This is still a work in progress, at the moment the beta version cannot be run on a Mac computer. Downloading software and content may seem difficult for less skilled computer users, and space on your computer will be important. The larger generic version of the content is a smaller version that can be measured in gigabytes, which is kind of the best feature. Astronomy enthusiasts with more computer memory can choose to download more.

The project collects information from eight databases that include at least 4,500 known exoplanets, tens of millions of galaxies, hundreds of millions of space objects in total, and more than 1.5 billion light sources from around the world. Only the Milky Way. But when it comes to potential data, the sky is literally the limit: future databases could include asteroids in our solar system or things like nebulae and pulsars in the galaxy.

There is no doubt that games and representations in virtual reality already exist: apps for observing the universe on tablets make it possible to map the night sky, using close-ups of the stars with magnification; Programs like Russia’s SpaceEngine provide images of the universe; NASA has made smaller virtual reality scopes.

But the EPFL team says VIRUP goes further and broader: data from sources such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in the United States and the European Space Agency’s Gaia roadmap mission. The Milky Way and its Planck mission to observe the first light of the universe. All collected together in a single window to obtain the most comprehensive datasets to date.

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And there’s more to come: When the 14-nation telescope project known as the Square Kilometer Array begins extracting information, the data can be calculated in petabytes, 1,000 terabytes, or a million gigabytes.

Put on your VR glasses and you’ll feel the amazing sensation of seeing the moon, seemingly the size of a giant beach ball and hovering close enough to hold it, as the horizon shifts from the sunny side to the dark side of the moon’s surface.

Next, it accelerates past the Solar System and Saturn, then rises above the Milky Way, spinning, flashing, and waving, with the outer planets marked in red. Furthermore, imagine floating through tiny points of light representing galaxies as if the viewer were a disproportionately large giant floating in space.

“It’s a very efficient way to visit all the different scales that make up our universe, and it’s completely unique,” explains Yves Rivas, an astrophysicist at EPFL. “A very important part of this project is that this is the first step towards processing much larger data sets that is yet to come.”

Entire galaxies seem to be connected to each other by strands or filaments of light, roughly like the representation of neural connections, that connect clusters of light like galaxies. For one of the largest images ever, there is a color depiction of the cosmic microwave background – the radiation left by the Big Bang.

“We actually started this project because I was working on a 3D universe mapping project and I was always a little frustrated with the 2D visualization on my screen, which wasn’t very meaningful,” Kneipp said, in one of the lab buildings. . Which includes a half-dome widescreen theater with beanbag chairs and hard floor space for virtual reality tours.

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“C’est vrai qu’en montrant l’univers en 3D, en montrant ces filaments, en montrant ces amas de galaxies qui sont de grandes concentrations de matière, on réalise vraiment ce qu’est l’univers”, at- he adds.

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This story reflects the fact that the EPFL corrected its initial press release to say “terabytes” rather than “tens of terabytes.”

Frank Mccarthy

<p class="sign">"Certified gamer. Problem solver. Internet enthusiast. Twitter scholar. Infuriatingly humble alcohol geek. Tv guru."</p>

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