EPFL astrophysicists and computer scientists have developed an astrophysical data visualization tool that can be adapted to virtual reality (VR) equipment. It allows you to travel to the confines of space comfortably seated on your sofa.

Called VIRUP, for “VIRtual Universe Project”, this powerful open source software builds in real time a virtual universe based on the most detailed contemporary cosmological and astrophysical data, the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) said on Tuesday in a statement.

Astronomers and astrophysicists have been collecting data for decades on billions of celestial objects, in the night sky, with telescopes on Earth and in space.

Generating a representation in real time, as if one were as an observer at any point in space and time, this is what Yves Revaz, astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Laboratory, undertook to do. (LASTRO) of EPFL, assisted by computer engineer Florian Cabot.

>> EPFL presentation video:

“Astrophysical data accessible to all”

For VIRUP, it was about generating 90 images per second, with terabytes of data. This constraint meets the requirements of the virtual reality environment, to provide a fluid and immersive experience.

“The visualization of astrophysical data is much more accessible than graphs and figures. It helps develop our intuition of these complex phenomena”, explains Yves Revaz, quoted in the press release.

“VIRUP can just make all of this astrophysical data accessible to everyone. This will become more and more important as we build even larger telescopes, like the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), which will generate enormous quantities. data “, adds the researcher.

>> Read: EPFL joins SKA, the huge international radio telescope

Impressive data set

For now, VIRUP can already view data from eight banks. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey includes over 50 million galaxies and 300 million objects in general. Gaia’s data contains over 1.5 billion light sources in the Milky Way.

The Planck Mission deploys a satellite that measures the first lights after the Big Bang, referred to as the cosmic diffuse background. The Open Exoplanet Catalog aggregates various data sources on exoplanets. Other banks include a directory of about 3000 Earth orbiting satellites, as well as textures to represent the objects.

>> Read: The Planck satellite goes back in time to the dawn of the Big Bang

VIRUP also generates robust scientific simulations. We can contemplate the future collision of our Milky Way with Andromeda, the neighboring galaxy. We can also see huge portions of the cosmic web – the large-scale filamentary structures that stretch across the Universe – and their formation over billions of years.

The Andromeda galaxy, is located about 2.55 million light years from ours, the Milky Way [Sebastian Voltmer / Leemage – AFP]

An in-house graphics engine

One of the main challenges is to ensure a smooth transition between the various databases, notes EPFL. “We were thinking of using graphics engines to visualize the data, but in the end I had to develop one especially for this project,” says Florian Cabot.

This first version of VIRUP already allows visitors to visit the 4,500 exoplanets discovered to date, even if their appearance is the result of an artistic interpretation, derived from observations. The next steps include the inclusion of banks of objects belonging to the solar system, such as asteroids, as well as various galactic objects such as nebulae and pulsars.

3 dimensions, 360 degrees

For a fully immersive experience, in 3D and 360 degrees, you need a virtual reality headset and a computer to start the VIRUP engine, as well as storage space.

VIRUP can also generate virtual universes in environments other than the VR headset, planetarium domes, for example. A transition made possible thanks to a collaboration between LASTRO and the EPFL Experimental Museology Laboratory (eM+).

The show was presented in September at the Synra Dome of the Tokyo Science Museum and will be held at the Dubai World Expo from October 17 to 30 as part of the EPFL Virtual Space Tour.

ats / friend

To experience VIRUP in a dome, the next exhibition, “Cosmos Archeology: Explorations in Space and Time”, will open on April 21, 2022 at the EPFL pavilions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.