By JAMEY KEATEN Associated Press
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – The Last Frontier has rarely seemed closer than this – at least virtually.
Researchers from one of the best Swiss universities on Tuesday released open source beta software that allows virtual tours across the cosmos, including to the International Space Station, beyond the Moon, Saturn or exoplanets, above galaxies and far beyond.
The program, called the Virtual Reality Universe Project, or VIRUP, brings together what researchers call the largest dataset in the universe to create three-dimensional panoramic visualizations of space.
Software engineers, astrophysicists and experts in experimental museology from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, came together to concoct the virtual map that can be viewed through individual VR equipment, immersion systems such as panoramic cinema with 3D glasses, planetarium-style dome screens, or simply on a PC for two-dimensional viewing.
“The novelty of this project was to bring together all the available datasets in a single frame, where you can see the universe at different scales – near us, around the Earth, around the solar system, at the level of the Milky Way, to see through the universe and time to the beginning – what we call the Big Bang, ”said Jean-Paul Kneib, director of the astrophysics laboratory at EPFL.
Think of a kind of Google Earth, but for the universe. Computer algorithms produce terabytes of data and produce images that can appear a meter (about three feet) or nearly ad infinitum, as if you are sitting down and looking at the entire observable universe.