Monday, April 23, 2012

The Solar System in the Palm of Your Hand

Video games have often been targeted by critics as time wasters that distract students from their education. Although video games don't always pair well with educational material, sometimes this pairing can be fantastic.

One such example is The Solar System: Explore Your Backyard -- a forthcoming PC/iPad/iphone application that gives you the freedom to explore our solar system in all of its glory. You can travel from planet to planet, get detailed information about planets' moons and orbit, and even visualize many of the sky's constellations.


A virtual tour of the solar system application courtesy of Christopher Albeluhn.


Christopher Albeluhn, the creator of the forthcoming app, started the project as a way to update his portfolio after losing his job in video game development, according to his site. After his friend posted a video of his work, he gained a huge following and placed his project on indiegogo.com, a website dedicated to crowd-funded ideas.

Albeluhn built the app on the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, a video game studio best known for the Gears of War franchise. Instead of fending off alien hordes, the user of this app can jump from one alien world to another and learn something along the way.

Albeluhn assures his readers that all of the orbital data has been verified multiple times to ensure accuracy, and everything should be to scale. In the video above, it might look like Jupiter is larger than the sun, but that's simply because Albeluhn changed the relative scaling for a better view of the gas giant.

Here's some of the cooler features that appear in the trailer above:

  • Detailed orbits for all of the planets and their moons with the ability to watch them move at different speeds.
  • A graph of the gravitational pull for every celestial body. The graph attempts to visualize the bending of spacetime due to gravity.
  • Internal views of every planet with the most detailed view reserved for our Earth.
  • Constellations overlaid with artistic impressions (e.g. A lion will appear for the constellation Leo.

Now that Albluhn has achieved his funding goal of $8,000, he plans to move forward with publishing the application for PCs, ipads, and iphones in the coming months. With more funding, he hopes to donate his app to a local science center.

The app looks great, and it appears to give the user more freedom than many other applications on the market. To see for yourself, here's a brief list of some of the alternatives available today:


Based on the video that Albluhn has released, however, his app looks more refined and engaging. We'll see if this app lives up to the hype once it's released in the coming months.


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