Space Exploration in App Form

by Scott Lindemann November 19th, 2012 | Cyber Culture, Featured
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If you’re checking out Inspector Electra, chances are you’re not just a technology geek. Chances are you’ve got a wide variety of topics that pique your interest, a number of subjects you could go on and on about, and study for hours for no other reason than personal enjoyment and education. You probably dig space.

Well, then, would you look at that? We’ve got something in common, you and I. It just so happens I’ve got two really nifty things to talk about involving science of the interstellar kind.

The first is a web application showcased by the fine folks over at Chrome Experiments. The application is called 100,000 Stars, and it aims to give the user a simple tour of our star system, with a focus on our Sun and its place in the galaxy. The app also attempts to demonstrate the extreme enormity of space by providing scale references and relative distance by utilizing real data. It’s really cool, and really humbling.

The app benefits from beautiful graphics and scaling effects, which shift the focus of view depending upon the distance from the focal points (the Sun, the Oort Cloud, the Milky Way). The music for the app is done by Sam Hulick of Mass Effect, which makes the experience all the more entrancing. It should be noted, however, that the app will only run in Google Chrome, so if you don’t have it, pick it up here.

This is the kind of stuff I dreamed about as a youngster. I remember checking out every astronomy book in our library and turning page after page in wonderment at just how massive it all was. To think that the closest star to us besides our Sun is almost 5 light years away is simply mind-blowing.

The second item I’d like to introduce to you is also a space exploration app, only this one is much more grandiose. It’s called the Space Engine. Created by Vladimir Romanyuk, Space Engine is a total universe simulator. From our solar system to the Milky Way, to even deep space, this application will take you to the far reaches of space, and look good doing it.

Space Engine features realistic scaling, atmospheric effects, 3D landscapes, and various realistic lighting effects, making this an immersive experience unlike any I’ve ever seen. Did I mention that this isn’t just a collection of stars? Well, it’s not. You’ll be treated to stars, planets, moons, asteroids – you name it. You can search for celestial bodies by name, or roam the universe freely using your keyboard.

How much does something like this cost? How does free sound? I had the same reaction. Bear in mind that this application is coded for Windows, so if you’re on a Mac or a Linux box, you’ll need translation software like Codeweavers’ CrossOver or Wine.

The sense of awe we feel when we look up at the stars isn’t something that can be easily quenched. Mankind has always had a thirst for exploration, even before Columbus accidentally discovered America. Even when we knew the Earth to be flat, and even when we knew our planet was the center of the Universe, we still felt the need to venture into the unknown and get our hands dirty. For those of us who can only dream of achieving great feats such as space exploration, these applications serve as a much needed proxy for the curiosity in all of us.

I hope you enjoy these nifty glimpses into the vast reaches of space. Enjoy, and let them bring you some perspective the next time you’re upset that your internet videos aren’t loading fast enough.

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