VR in Outer Space
A Review of VR in Astrovisualization
(* indicates planned collaboration or open source)
(** indicates collaboration and/or multiplayer support)
Astrovisualization refers to the visualization of data from outer space, ranging from the visualization of galaxies and star locations to the terrain of various planets. As VR lends itself particularly well to immersive data presentation, astrovisualization has been the subject of multiple VR softwares and programs in gaming, education, science, and many more fields.
VR is a popular format for many space agencies to present educational materials in, mainly because it's extremely engaging and gives students a better physical sense of an environment they can't actually be in. It's also one of the most intuitive ways to display visual data without needing a lot of background knowledge of the subject. In fact, NASA and multiple other groups associated with space exploration have released VR apps or have VR integrated into their tourism displays in order to educate the public.
NASA Exoplanet and Spitzer Excursion
Spitzer VR is a VR app designed by NASA for the general public; it takes users on a journey through different exoplanets
Virtual reality has been used often in scientific domains, particularly those which call for immersive world visualization. Astrodata often has many parameters, such as location, time, phase, etc. and these many parameters are better visualized in a medium which can handle multiple dimensions. This makes VR particularly well suited to scientific survey of existing astronomical data.
OpenSpace is a free open-source project being built by NASA. It is very similar to Google Earth, except that it aims to display the entire known universe. It is an extremely powerful tool; while it is still in beta and its VR support is buggy and still being worked on, it is a great tool to get a feel for how astrovisualization can be applied in the scientific realm.
Gaia Sky is a free open-source project built by scientists at the Heidelberg University Center for Astronomy using data from the ESA (European Space Agency) and particularly the Gaia Missions. Much like OpenSpace, it has a well supported desktop implementation but also a very well supported VR implementation that works on any headset connected to a PC. It is less powerful and focuses more on star location data, but is much less buggy and has a somewhat easier learning curve.
Gaming / Leisure
Gaming is an extremely popular field in VR right now due to the engaging nature of the medium. There are countless games which incorporate immersive "world" environments into their gameplay, and many choose to remain true to life by using astronomical data as the basis for their environments.
Space Engine is a virtual planetarium that uses a mix of real data and procedural generation to create an immersive environment of the entire known universe. Its UI/UX is very similar to scientific VR applications like Open Space and Gaia Sky and does make use of known data where there it exists; however, its ultimate goal is to provide an aesthetic experience to consumers with incredible particle effects, etc.