Stargazing in Second Life

Bell of Firmament
Bell of Firmament

It’s no secret I’m quite into space exploration and astronomy, and within Second Life I’ve visited a number of planetariums and observatories, many containing interactive displays and educational information on the cosmos, stars and planets.

One of the more unique interactive astronomy-related  installations I’ve come across in Second Life, is the The Bell of Firmament by Maygray Riverview (Maygray Heron), co-owner of MayLou Designs.

Make sure you read the guide to using the installation
Make sure you read the guide to using the installation

This is a very clever interactive piece, allowing the visitor to interactively visualise the constellations in 3D, with the stars seen in terms of their relative size, colour and position to one another as seen from Earth.

Constellations can be seen individually, or you can build up a “star display”, gradually adding more and more constellations. It’s also possible to add lines between stars to help visualise the constellations as they appear in the night sky, and the display can be tilted and rotated or cammed around.

To use the Bell of Firmament effectively does take practice and patience, but the results can be interesting. A full set of instructions are provided, and I recommend reading through them beforehand. These are located on the lowest level of the installation and introduce you to the menu system, using the compass rings and drawing lines between the stars. Once you’ve done this, use one of the small blue teleport spheres to move up to the observation decks.

The decks provide access to the star menus, where you can define how you want to display constellations: either individually or adding each one you select to those already on display. When starting out, I’d recommend starting by displaying them one at a time; things can quickly get crowded – you can make sure this is set by clicking on Options > Replace Stars (use Options > Sum Up Stars when you want to add constellations to an existing display). Constellations are divided into three groups: signs of the zodiac, characters from mythology, and animals.

The in-world menu system provides the menu to set-up the display and select the constellation(s) you wish to view
The in-world menu system provides the menu to set-up the display and select the constellation(s) you wish to view

A model of Earth is provided in the display area, and can help you orient yourself; however, if you’re not overly familiar with astronomy and star naming conventions, I would recommend having Wikipedia at the ready; the stars are defined by a combination of their Flamsteed and Bayer designations, rather than their familiar names (so, for example, Betelgeuse is defined as 58α Ori).

You can link the major stars of a constellation to help better relate the display to how the stars appear to be aligned from Earth
You can link the major stars of a constellation to help better relate the display to how the stars appear to be aligned from Earth as with Orion, seen here

Once you have located the key stars in a constellation, you can can click on them to create lines of light between them, allowing you to better identify them as they are seen from Earth. Doing so also allows you to see first-hand just how subjective the constellations really are; simply cam around – even just a little – and watch how the familiar patterns quickly change. Should you need to, use the compass rings to adjust the position of your star display to position any stars you may wish to see better

There are perhaps a few things missing from The  Bell of Firmament. Offering the common names of familiar stars – Rigel, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Arcturus, Deneb, Castor, Pollux, etc.- would perhaps help the lay user, and it would be nice to seen a names of displaying information on a given “major” star. However, the latter is a major task in and of itself, and would require careful consideration on how best to achieve it (an in-world info panel? An ability to provide a link to an external web page / Wikipedia?, etc), and could complicate things.

However, these are really, really minor points. As it is, Bell of Firmament is one of the more unique interactive displays in Second Life, and if you do have an interest in astronomy and haven’t had a play with it as yet, it could well be worth a visit.

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