Immersive, virtual environments come in many forms – and those developing them are seeking some novel approaches to developing such spaces that can be interactive on both an individual and a social footing.
Last year, I explored The Blu, which took this idea into the oceans of the world, allowing people to explore water, collect fish, interact with one another and create content with which to populate the various oceans.
Yesterday, I was pointed to another immersive environment which is still in what might be called a “beta” (or at least, start-up) phase, one which takes a far grander setting in which to immerse users: the cosmos around us.
SunAeon is an amazing educational / immersive project being run by a small team based in Slovakia, who have already cut their teeth producing a number of 3D interactive services including Sun / Moon Scope (which shows the current position of the sun and Moon (with the current phase of the latter) from your location, at either the current time or any given time of day) and Astrology Scope (which is an interactive guide to astrology).
The team’s latest project is the Solar System, a fabulous interactive model of the Solar System that is still under development, and which builds on much of the experience the team gained in building Solar System Scope, itself a unique and immersive study of the solar system and the stars around us.
Solar System is the first step in a new SunAeon portal site that will present various elements of astronomy and space exploration aimed at the astronomy / space enthusiast, the armchair hobbyist and at education. As well as providing a unique means of learning about our solar system and the cosmos as a whole, the overall aim of the portal is to eventually include a rich diversity of content, including multi-player games and a range of social engagement options. No special software is required and nothing needs to be downloaded or installed. Everything runs directly on your browser, making accessing the portal a simple matter of clicking on the URL.
Solar System, as its name suggests, is a beautifully rendered 3D model of the solar system that provides users with an immersive means to discover and explore the worlds around us. The solar system itself is presented in two views: “model” and “real”, the key difference between the two being that of relative scale (see below). There is also a “cinematic” mode that takes you on a tour of the “model” view of the Solar system, the camera sweeping from planet to planet.
In either view, you can use the mouse to scroll around the solar system and view it from different angles. You can also zoom in/out using the vertical slider on the right of the display. To zoom in on a planet, hover the mouse pointer over it so it is outlined (easier in “model” view) and double-click.
Once zoomed-in on a planet, you can either orbit around it using the mouse, viewing it from the “day” or “night” sides or even across the terminator – or you can use a set of media controls to observe the planet as it rotates about its axis. Relative rotations are in “real time” comparative to one another, meaning that there is a marked difference between the observable rotation of say, Jupiter (which completes one rotation every 10 hours), and Venus (which completes one rotation every 243 days). Buttons on the media control panel allow you to speed-up planetary rotation if you wish.
The media controls are also available from the main Solar System page, where you can view all the planets currently modelled and set them rotating about their axes and travelling in their orbits around the sun. In the model view, and seen from overhead, this offers a very visual means of demonstrating “close approaches” between planets.
At the moment, Earth is the most animated of the planets: as you orbit it / allow it to rotate, you can see cloud swirling and moving through the atmosphere on the day side, and the myriad lights of population centres across the night side of the globe. Other planets are currently more static in nature, although the team are working to change this with a module called Planetary Explorer, which will present the planets more dynamically.
The first phase of this tool was rolled out as this article was in preparation: alongside each planet is a clickable drop-down window that displays basic data on the planet. Over time, the capabilities of the Explorer will be enhances, as SunAeon team member Mito Sadlon explained to me, “You’ll be able to use it to observe the surface and atmosphere of each planet. We’ll have a more extended version of the Explorer available in the coming weeks.”
Also missing, as the keen-eyed will observe, are key elements of the solar system – such as Pluto and our own Moon. The team are working on adding these, and also the two captured Moons of Mars: Deimos and Phobos and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io.