BIG PICTURE, BIG DATA: SWISS UNVEIL VR SOFTWARE OF UNIVERSE
AppleMagazine|AppleMagazine #520
The final frontier has rarely seemed closer than this — at least virtually.

Researchers at one of Switzerland’s top universities are releasing open-source beta software this week that allows for virtual visits through the cosmos including up to the International Space Station, past the Moon, Saturn or exoplanets, over galaxies, and well beyond.

The program — called Virtual Reality Universe Project, or VIRUP — pulls together what the researchers call the largest data set of the universe to create three-dimensional, panoramic visualizations of space.

Software engineers, astrophysicists and experimental museology experts at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have come together to concoct the virtual map that can be viewed through individual VR gear, immersion systems like panoramic cinema with 3D glasses, planetarium-like dome screens, or just on a PC for two-dimensional viewing.

“The novelty of this project was putting all the data set available into one framework, when you can see the universe at different scales — nearby us, around the Earth, around the solar system, at the Milky Way level, to see through the universe and time up to the beginning — what we call the Big Bang,” said Jean-Paul Kneib, director of EPFL’s astrophysics lab.

Think a sort of Google Earth — but for the universe. Computer algorithms churn up terabytes of data and produce images that can appear as close as one meter (about three feet), or almost infinitely far away — as if you sit back and look at the entire observable universe.

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