Less than 600 people, out of the billions of Earth, have traveled in space so far. So chances are you won’t personally have the opportunity to visit the International Space Station or, say, Mars. And none of us will travel as far as another galaxy, or far enough in space (and therefore far enough in time) to witness the early universe, or even the Big Bang itself. But now you can do all of these things virtually.
This week (October 12, 2021), researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne published a beta version of their virtual reality universe project, which they call VIRUP. Its open-source beta software contains what these scientists say is the largest dataset in the universe.
The team used this data to create panoramic 3D landscapes of space that you can fly over, if you have the right equipment. One note: Beta version cannot run on Mac computer yet.
Virtual reality universe project
You can view this free map of the universe with virtual reality equipment or 3D glasses, on planetarium-style dome screens, or on your usual computer or television screen for a standard view. From the data, the researchers created a 20-minute film, Archeology of Light: An Immersive Journey Through Space and Time, which you can watch below. You can also display it in your choice of 4K, VR180 or 360 degrees. In the video, the detailed 3D model of the universe begins on Earth and travels through our solar system to the Milky Way, then to the cosmic web and relic light of the Big Bang.
The sources of the map of the virtual reality universe
The computer algorithms used to create the Virtual Reality Universe Project pull terabytes of data – one terabyte is roughly one trillion bytes of data – collected from telescopes around the world. The goal is to produce images of the entire observable universe. Team member Jean-Paul Kneib said in a statement:
The novelty of this project was to bring together all the available datasets in a single frame, when 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.
They gathered information from eight databases that include all 4,500 known exoplanets and tens of millions of galaxies. VIRUP uses data from a wide variety of sources including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Gaia Mission, Planck Mission and more.
The map is still a work in progress. In the future, the team plans to add databases containing asteroids, nebulae, pulsars and other space objects. When the Square Kilometer Array goes live in 2029, it will eventually include data that can be counted in petabytes (1,000 terabytes or 1 million gigabytes). Yves Revaz from EPFL said:
A very important part of this project is that this is a first step towards dealing with much larger datasets to come.
To learn more, visit the project documentation page.
Or read EPFL’s âArcheology of Lightâ.
For scientists and the public
The researchers hope their virtual reality universe project will be useful to anyone who wants to see the universe in a different light. The software is available for free, and the curious public and research scientists may find immersing themselves in our cosmos a useful tool. Kneib said:
We actually started this project because I was working on a three-dimensional mapping project of the universe and was still a little frustrated with the 2D visualization on my screen, which didn’t make much sense. It is true that by showing the universe in 3D, by showing these filaments, by showing these clusters of galaxies which are large concentrations of matter, we really realize what the universe is.
Conclusion: Researchers amassed terabytes of data from a multitude of telescopes to create the Virtual Reality Universe Project, a map of our cosmos.
By the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne