Space fans have seen vivid images of vivid paint-spattered galaxies, supernovas, and stars from images taken by astronomers. Now, Teams at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Center for Computation and Visualization at Brown University are using Virtual Reality to get a view of stars from the inside.
Looking at the Stars with VR
VR is being used by researchers and scientists to create molecular structures in labs. Even doctors and surgeons are using it for medical training. Currently, astronomers are using VR to envision what stars look like from the inside and out.
Phys.Org reports that astronomers and astrophysicists are using VR to look at Cassiopeia A, a very distant supernova. The supernova is 11,000 light years from Earth, which is unreachable to us but can be seen with powerful telescopes.
Scientists took the x-ray, optics, and infrared data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope, and other telescopes. They then transferred the information over to MinVR and VTK, which are applications used for 3D modeling.
Once the coded data is gathered and inputted, astronomers can get up close, view, learn to identify different parts of a star that have been 3D modeled, color-coded, and labeled. In the future, they want to also add in sound. This helps to bring what was once distant two-dimensional models to life in a three-dimensional space.
Supernova Research Opens Up Eyes
Why are scientists researching supernovas with VR? Supernovas and the contents within them splash outward, so different gases and materials also explode. Using VR, researchers can gain a new perspective on data, which will hopefully pave the way to new insights.
Kimberly Kowal Arcand, team leader at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says, “The first time I ever walked inside the same data set that I have been staring at for 20 years”.
“I just immediately was fascinated by things I had never noticed, like how various bits of the iron were in different locations.”
VR gives a different viewpoint to those that use it for entertainment like with the star-infused storytelling of the cosmos called Spheres and for education with WebbVR: The James Webb Space Telescope Virtual Experience.
The star simulator is being used to visualize real data to tell a larger story.
“The ability to look at something in three dimensions and being immersed in it just kind of opened up my eyes to think about it in different ways,” says Arcand.
Astronomers and researchers with their eyes to the real and virtual skies are using both PC and mobile VR headsets to see supernovas explode and scatter. The headsets they’re using are the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
The Rift offers a more interactive experience with hand-held controllers that can act as hands or tools in VR, while Google Cardboard is more of a simplistic VR viewer.
Popular Mechanics reports that the simulator they are using is “open and available to the public” although scientists and astronomists are using it for education and research. Follow the links above for more information on how to access it.