By Elton Gomes
US space research agency NASA has introduced a new app that allows you to take a selfie in a virtual spacesuit, while you pose in front of mind-boggling locations of the universe, like the Orion Nebula or the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. In addition to the NASA Selfies app, the space agency has also launched an exoplanet excursion virtual reality (VR) app that gives users a guided tour of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system.
The digital apps were developed to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the launch of the Spitzer space telescope, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.
Spitzer’s outstanding discoveries and amazing images are at the centre of these new apps. Besides allowing users to generate snapshots of themselves in a virtual spacesuit, the Selfies app also provides information about the science behind these images. At present, there are 30 eye-catching images to choose from, all of which have been taken by the Spitzer telescope. More images from NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions will be added later, though no specific details were provided in this regard.
In the Exoplanet Excursions virtual reality app, users go through a guided tour of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. The Spitzer telescope played an important role in detecting these planets and providing information to assist scientists as they learn about the planets’ compositions.
Till date, TRAPPIST-1 is the only known exoplanet system to host seven Earth-size planets, all of which are roughly the size of the earth. The TRAPPIST-1 system is extremely far for telescopes to directly observe these planets. However, through this VR experience, users get an opportunity to witness artists’ impressions of what the planets might look like. These impressions are based on data from Spitzer and other telescopes that have studied the TRAPPIST-1 system. Through the VR tour, users are guided through five of the seven planets, surrounded by the blackness of space and the faint light of distant stars.
The VR app will be available for Oculus and Vive via the website of the Spitzer mission. NASA added it will soon be available through the Oculus store. The VR tour can be accessed on YouTube as well – a 360-degree video is available on the Spitzer Youtube page wherein viewers can explore the TRAPPIST-1 system on their desktop, smartphone, or with a smartphone-based 360-viewer such as Google Cardboard. A cousin of the Hubble space telescope, the Spitzer telescope was launched on August 25, 2003, to study the early universe in infrared light.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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