New Virtual Reality Experience Highlights NASA’s Webb Space Telescope

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December 05, 2018 10:00AM (EST) Release ID: 2018-58 alt text

WebbVR Lets Viewers Explore the Cosmos Without Leaving the Comforts of Home

Visit the James Webb Space Telescope at its orbit point beyond the Moon, 1 million miles from Earth. Fly through the Orion Nebula and watch a planet-forming disk take shape. Explore the star fields of a simulated galaxy. Or get hands-on and fling stars into a ravenous black hole to watch them spaghettify. All of these encounters are part of the new WebbVR virtual experience. WebbVR offers users an opportunity to immerse themselves into a variety of environments from our own solar system to distant galaxies. Information hubs provide more details about the places you visit, while simulations incorporate real physics. WebbVR is available for download from Steam, a popular VR content platform.


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With the holidays approaching, do you have a virtual reality headset on your wish list? If so, you’ll want to know about the new, fully immersive WebbVR experience, now available for public download. You can explore the universe like never before, beginning with a visit to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope at its orbit point beyond the Moon, 1 million miles from Earth.

Webb will be the world's premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. With WebbVR, you can fly up-close to Webb’s golden mirrors, and learn how it collects infrared light to reveal the cosmos. You can also compare Webb with the Hubble and WFIRST space telescopes. Info hubs within the VR environment provide more information about each mission.

Further out, explore your own cosmic neighborhood—the Solar System—in gorgeous detail. Fly through Saturn’s rings or join Jupiter’s moons in orbit around the gas giant. You may also leave the Solar System behind and visit the stunning Orion Nebula, where a swirling disk of gas and dust is beginning to form planets, or fly through the star fields of a simulated galaxy. All of these destinations, from our cosmic backyard to distant galaxies, will be observed with Webb.

“You can go into these environments and experience them, not just read about them,” said lead VR developer Chad Smith of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

WebbVR users don’t just visit cosmic realms – they interact with them. You can fling entire stars toward a ravenous black hole and watch them get torn apart, feeding twin jets that blast outward across space. You can build your own planet or even a whole solar system. You can investigate how changing the mass of a star alters the course of its lifecycle.

The awe-inspiring WebbVR experience isn’t just for home VR users. It’s intended for museums, libraries, and other informal education settings. As such, the WebbVR environment presents real science concepts, developed in consultation with experts in astrophysics. Its simulations incorporate Newtonian gravity and realistic gas viscosity and collision physics.

“We’re always looking for new ways to share the exciting science of Webb with broad audiences. WebbVR will bring the awe and thrill of space to your own living room or science center,” said Webb communications lead Dr. Alexandra Lockwood at STScI.

To experience WebbVR, users will need an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset and a compatible computer (PC with appropriate graphics processor).

WebbVR is available for download from Steam, a popular VR content platform.

WebbVR was developed by STScI in partnership with Northrop Grumman.