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Edinburgh Team Develops VR Edition of Stellarium for Oculus Rift

Staring up at the night sky and seeing the twinkling stars should be fairly easy, but unfortunately due to uncontrollable elements like clouds or light pollution, enjoying it can be difficult. This week at the National Astronomy Meeting at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Wales, Edinburgh astronomers were showing off a new project that combined the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) with Stellarium planetary software, tentatively titled StarSightVR.

Phys.Org spoke with astronomer Alastair Bruce, the project lead, about StarSightVR, “I have always loved showing the stars to people, but now I can guarantee perfect cloudless skies, and show the universe to people all round the world, while they stay in the comfort of their own homes,” Bruce said. “Some people are also simply unable to come to places like the Royal Observatory or to travel to dark skies, so this technology could help them enjoy astronomy in a way that until now wasn’t possible.”

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Bruce, a PhD student at Edinburgh University teamed up with his supervisor, Prof Andy Lawrence to help bring the project to life. With a grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to purchase the necessary equipment, including hiring software engineer (Guillaume Chereau) to help alter the Stellarium software, Lawrence said: “It worked beautifully.”

“We showed off an early version to people at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April, and it just knocked their socks off. You feel like you are really outside looking at the starry sky, but it’s even better. You can see fainter stars, speed up the rotation of Earth, look at deep sky objects, and even take the ground away so you feel like you are seeing the stars from space,” says Lawrence.

Anyone with an Oculus Rift will soon be able to take advantage of the software as the team will be releasing an test open source version of Stellarium in the near future, and VRFocus will be following those announcements when they happen.