“We have whole planets to explore…” – A return to SunAeon

In April, I wrote about a new collaborative effort to build an interactive, immersive on-line guide to the Solar System and space exploration called SunAeon. Since then, the team behind the project have been hard at work, added features and capabilities, producing special updates – such as their model charting the recent transit of Venus). Today they launched a further update to the site – and I’m taking a little time out not only to report on it, but also (being totally honest) tooting my own horn a little – as I’ve been able to make a small contribution to the site.

The first notable change on visiting the SunAeon website is that the portal front page has been removed, and that after the familiar tree has been displayed, you’re taken directly to a Solar System view.

The new Solar System display at SunAeon

This now features a number of buttons and controls:

  • Top left:
    • SunAeon: opens a small menu that allows you to display a planet directly on your screen or see the SunAeon team’s biographies or a list of founding members or to visit the SunAeon Facebook page
    • Solar System: clears the SunAeon menu and returns you to the Solar System view
  • Find Planet: Located on the left of the screen, further down from the SunAeon and Solar System buttons, this opens a list of the eight planets of the Solar System (yes, eight planets of the Solar System now that Pluto has been downgraded), allowing you to select the one you wish to explore
  • Top right:
    • Volume: activates / mutes the music stream
    • Full screen: displays SunAeon full screen and sans adverts
    • Settings: opens the settings options, of which more below
  • View Settings: located further down the right side of the screen, this displays sliders allowing you to set the relative size of the model and planets on your screen – the more to the left the sliders are set, the more “real life” the planet sizes and relative distances between them. You can also add orbital paths around the sun and tag the planets with their names
  • Zoom: located bottom right, this allows you to zoom in and out of the model.

You can explore the planets in a number of ways:

  • Via the SunAeon – > Explore Planet list OR by DOUBLE clicking on a planet
    • Either option will zoom you immediately into the planet and display the planet’s information and data page
  • Selecting a planet using the Find Planet button OR by clicking ONCE on a planet:
    • Either option will focus the planet on your screen and circle it
    • Additional buttons will appear alongside the zoom button at the bottom right of your screen
    • An Explore Planet button will be displayed under the Find Planet button
Selecting a planet: additional buttons and options

The additional buttons in the lower right corner of the display allow you to:

  • Additionally focus on / zoom out from the selected planet (left)
  • Zoom in / out on the selected planet (middle)
  • Once zoomed on the planet, you can use the original zoom button (right) to adjust the proximity of your zoom on the planet.
Focused on Venus and zoomed in using the additional controls (bottom centre right) – use the zoom scale to further zoom in as required

Planetary Data Pages

When zoomed-in on a planet, you can click on the Explore Planet option to display the associated information and data (or you can go directly to the page by double-clicking on the planet or via the SunAeon menu, as described above).

This displays some basic information about the planet, in a scrollable window.

Basic planetary information

To the left of the planet are three buttons:

  • The planet button:
    • Click on the planet’s name to display the basic information window or
    • Click the right arrow under the planet’s name to open a list of planets and go directly to its information and data display (clicking the left arrow will close the list)
  • The structure button: click this to display basic information on the planet’s structure and (where relevant) atmosphere (see below)
  • Solar System: click this to return to the Solar System view.
Basic planetary structure information

I was very honoured to be asked by the team to provide the text for both the information and the planetary structure windows, and am very pleased – not to mention proud – that the material I was able to provide has been of use to the team and helped them further develop the site.

Note that when zoomed-in to a planet in the Solar System view, or when displaying the basic information about the planet, you can still rotate it on your screen by click-holding the left mouse button and then moving your mouse. You can also use this method to rotate the entire solar system in your field of view.

Settings Options

The embedded media player

The settings button (top right of the SunAeon display allows you to set the overall quality of the displayed images (very noticeable difference in the Solar System view).

From here you can also access the built-in media player to set the volume for the site’s music and select the track from which you want it to start playing.  The pieces Travis Fitzsimmons produced for earlier models by the team have now been integrated into this model to provide further variety of musical options. You can leave the player open on your screen, or simply select a piece and then close it – the player will cycle through the pieces automatically.

The beautiful shepherded rings of Saturn


SunAeon continues to grow and add functionality, and as such continued to grow as a learning tool that opens up the Solar System to anyone with a computer (capable of running Flash!). I’m proud to have been asked to contribute to the website, and hope that I’ll be able to further help in its development in the coming months / years.

A high quality, full-screen image from SunAeon – note the dust clouds around the “ices”of the Kuiper belt

* The title for this piece is taken from a piece written by Francis “Dick” Scobee, Commander of STS-51L. The quote reads in full: “We have whole planets to explore, we have new worlds to build, we have a Solar System to roam in. And even if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out towards space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions who remain on Earth.”

Make it so, Number One: the SL SF Convention

Note this is a multi-page article, please use the page options at the very end of the piece to page bath and forth.

The fifth annual Second Life Science Fiction convention is well underway, having started on the 27th June and running through until Sunday July 1st. I’m a little late getting to it due to a number of reasons – including not receiving any PR material this year. However, given science-fiction does poke the geek in me, I hopped over to the regions ahead of the start of a busy weekend of events.

This year’s event covers six regions, and is again in aid of the American Cancer Society / RFL in SL, presenting a host of exhibits to tour showcasing SF in SL as well as running a series of live events.

The promotional poster for the event

Chief among the live events are special appearance by Jonathan Frakes (William T. and Thomas Riker from Star Trek: the Next Generation and later ST incarnations) and Garrett Wang (Harry Kim from Star Trek Voyager), both of whom will be appearing over the weekend.

Also putting in an appearance was Richard Hatch, the original Apollo from Battlestar Galactica and who also featured in the reimagined series as the manipulative revolutionary / terrorist Tom Zarek. Mr. Hatch was on stage on June 27th, just after the event opened, so I’m afraid I missed him in terms of getting the word out.

Each of the six regions has its own arrival point, each of which has a wealth of information on the events – including links to  convention guide (presented in PDF format & sadly lacking in URLs). The format of the guide will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever attended a Sci Fi convention in real life, which is a nice touch. However, if you are specifically interested in attending the presentations by Mr. Frakes and / or Mr. Wang, I would suggest you head for the North region’s teleport point. Details on the appearances by Mr. Frakes and Mr. Wang can be found just to the east of this, complete with a ticket booth, which links you to the SL Marketplace where you can purchase a ticket to attend either or both events, at a cost of L$100 per attending avatar.

The venue for the guest speakers is the spherical Council Chamber which sites next to the ticket booth and promotional posters of the guests. Other main stage events will take place in the ground immediately outside the sphere, on the east side of the teleport arrivals area.

The Council Chamber

The regions themselves are well-defined in terms of the ratio of open space to exhibits, helping to reduce overall lag. For those who visited SL9b, there are some familiar friends here – such as Novelli Nior’s TARDIS ride. If you didn’t get to enjoy this unlagged at SL9B, it’s immediately worth a visit here.

Journey through the Galaxy aboard a TARDIS

There is quite a mix of exhibits across the sims, with some promoting content, others role-play groups and some – like the TARDIS ride – offering a lot of fun. Some are imaginative ways of promoting adult-oriented material in a distinctly inoffensive way which should raise a smile even if you’re not into the adult theme itself…

The REAL truth about alien crop circles

New “informal” content creation group established

Partially as a result of there being something of a gap in the existing Content Creation User Group for the discussions on improving the state of content creation in SL, and as a result of RedPoly’s suggestions for improving the way in which mesh clothing fits, a new “informal” Content Creation User Group has been formed.

The organisers for the new group are Geenz Spad, Siddean Munro, Ellie Spot and Oz Linden. Geenz will be the chair for meetings, and Oz will act as the liaison with Linden Lab. It is intended for developers and content creators alike, with the aim of providing a collaborative atmosphere which will allow members to discuss features, workflows, and modifications with the aim of enhancing content creation for everyone on SL. As such, the focus of the new group will be:

  • To provide a forum in which content creators can voice their ideas and / or concerns about the overall state of content creation in SL
  • Encourage the spread of knowledge about content creation methodologies and tools
  • Suggest / discuss new ways to facilitate content creation in SL (including the use of new tools or possible improvements to the viewer)
  • To provide a focal-point where content creators can have questions answered and issues highlighted that might otherwise go unanswered in other user groups.

It is hoped that eventually, this new forum will be the means by which proposals for new functionality that will be beneficial to the community can be proposed and developed. This would in turn lead to prototypes being developed, with Linden Lab’s approval of said functionality, that will enable the potential enhancements to SL’s content creation capabilities to be demonstrated.

In chatting with me about the new group, Geenz had this to say, “As it stands, the Mesh Import User Group is for just that: mesh import; it’s not intended for discussing how we can make content creation better. The Open Development is for discussing things already in the open source programme’s development pipeline, so that’s not really the place to discuss this sort of thing either.

Geenz Spad, who will chair the new group’s meetings, standing of the stage where the meetings will be held

“Then of course you have the Scripting, Sim, and other groups, [and] discussing how we can improve content creation in general just doesn’t fit anywhere; it’s almost as if it’s in limbo. This is intended to fill that gap, while at the same time staying clear of the existing user groups in its purpose.”

A wiki page has been established for the group, and will contain meeting agendas, etc., and which also summarises the group’s function. The group itself will meet between 15:00-16:00 SLT on Tuesdays at the Hippotropolis Auditorium in SL, commencing on Tuesday 3rd July.

CCIUG articles in this blog