ASP2021: A Virtual Conference
3:10 PM - 4:00 PM: Concurrent Session 4D: 3:10 pm PST (6:10 pm EST) - Oral Presentations
Exploring the Frontiers of Space in 3D
Conference Strand: Doing Public Engagement in Informal Settings
Chris Impey, University of Arizona
Alexander Danehy, University of Arizona
Matthew Wenger, University of Arizona
Abstract of Session/Presentation: The talk will describe a new immersive 3D experience that lets visitors experience the scope, scale, and impact of major telescopes and space missions. All are connected to research done at the University of Arizona. Visitors explore the virtual world through the first-person view of an avatar on a mountaintop site under a starry sky. The experience includes large current and future telescopes, along with planetary missions and space telescopes that are suspended in mid-air. Billboards and posters describe the facilities and their goals, so the tour can be self-guided. The virtual environment was built using Epic Games' 3D visualization engine. It can be delivered at extremely high-resolution using an Oculus Quest headset tethered to a powerful laptop computer, or at slightly lower resolution using any number of standalone headsets. Astronomy facilities in the 3D experience include the 6.5-meter MMT, the Large Binocular Telescope with its twin 8.4-meter mirrors, the Kitt Peak radio dish used as part of the Event Horizon Telescope, and the upcoming Large Magellan Telescope, which has an equivalent diameter of 24.5-meters and which will be the largest telescope in the world. The Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope are also included. Planetary science facilities that are represented include the HiRISE Mars orbiter and the Phoenix Mars lander, set on a Martian landscape, and the Osiris-Rex mission, shown next to a high-resolution model of the 500-meter diameter Bennu asteroid. The VR exhibit is intended for public audiences, and it gives visitors and immersive and visceral sense of the size and complexity of modern astronomy facilities. The talk will feature a live walk-through.