Your travel through the solar system can be enhanced by (currently) two tracks commissioned for the work and written by American composer and musician Travis Fitzsimmons, who has also supplied pieces for the SunAeon team’s other projects. Both pieces for Solar System – called Venus and Journey to the Sun respectively – are quite evocative and suit the website perfectly. For those that prefer to explore without music, or using their own background music, the soundtrack can be turned off from any page via the speaker icon in the top right corner of the display.
The social aspects of the system are still in their nascent stages, but the overall roadmap shows that user interaction and engagement form key parts of development at SunAeon. As it stands there is a chat capability available from the main SunAeon portal called “The Ideas Box”. currently this appears to be dominated by Polish speakers, but the SunAeon team are planning on opening more traditional forums and other means of direct interaction within the site.
Perhaps of greater interest to model-makers and astronomers are the plans to provide a means for users to create content of their own, which can then be shared with / collected by others, and used to build “personal spaces”. This is also where the “missing elements” of the current solar system model fit in, again as Mito explained, “We want to work with our users to add more objects to our solar system – more moons, dwarf planets, comets, etc. – we’ll be supplying the interface for this, and users will be able to supply the data.” In addition, the personal spaces will allow users to crate their own models of the solar system, upload and share videos, and create their own blogs – all of which should hopefully lead to a high degree of interaction for astronomy / space enthusiasts, model-builders and educators.
Further social engagement will become possible through a number of fun / educational games being developed for the site – including a “spaceflight multiplayer game”. Details on this are under wraps, and there’s no current release date, but it is one of the things that will likely follow-on from the development of the “grand model” of the solar system.
“Billions and billions of stars”
A core element of the team’s earlier work with the Solar System Scope model was a “panoramic” capability which presented an interaction view of the night sky from one’s home location, allowing you to scroll around, see the constellations, identify stars and view basic information on them. I asked Mito if there were plans to include such a capability in the new portal or solar system model. “We’ll be adding a special model to the portal for the stars and constellations,” he confirmed. “A night sky model with interesting tools to make learning about the stars fun for everyone. These will include the ability to search for stars and view drawings of the ancient constellations from older civilisations.”
Founder Members and Partners
The website offers the opportunity for people to become a “founder member” for a donation of $30 USD or more. The money raised is fed directly into the project, and has already gained the project a lot of supporters, many of whom are from a 3D design or astronomy background. Founders have their names recorded on the portal site, complete with links to their own website, if they have one. Founder members also gain the ability to download models from the site for their personal use.
The team is also hoping to attract partner organisations who can help the portal to grow, and provide additional financial support.
Work is rapidly progressing on the portal and models, so much so that plans are in hand to formally launch in May, and for the team to continue to regularly add to the site. “We are working exclusively on this project,” Mito tells me, “So we hope to have something new almost every week.” As mentioned above, the first of these new features has been an initial release of the Planetary Explorer, with various videos to follow-on from that, as well as enhancements to the Explorer itself.
Access to the portal is – and will remain – free, with the team hoping that donations will be sufficient to keep the work going, together with any revenue gained from the adverts appearing on either side of the site’s window (and which don’t overly impact on using the site).
I admit to being a bit of an armchair enthusiast when it comes to space exploration and astronomy. I don’t exactly stargaze, but I love learning about the planets and love the idea of exploring places like Mars. The SunAeon portal and Solar System model make it possible to do this in a very novel and potentially absorbing way. It’s a project that is now bookmarked in my browser, and one I’ll be keeping a close eye on.
With thanks to Chuck Baggett for pointing me to the SunAeon portal.