A new virtual-reality (VR) experience promises to have you zooming around the cosmos as you look at the precise locations of planets, moons and stars in the solar system and its nearby neighborhood.
The VR experience, called "Overview," was released for the HTC Vive Thursday (March 1). The regular price is $24.99, but it will be 25-percent off for the first two weeks, according to the game's production company, Orbital Views. All updates to the game will be free. Oculus Rift users will also be able to play their own version of the game beginning April 2.
The game's creators envision the VR experience as a way to give users a chance to explore space, as well as to promote a greater awareness of Earth's delicate spot in the universe. According to the game's director, Paul Mezier, the goal is to have a "change in consciousness" among its audience by showing precisely how the universe looks. [Virtual Reality and Mars: 4 Ways Tech Will Change Space Exploration]
"The end result is, everything you see is accurate and real," he told Space.com. "All the blinking dots you can see? You can recognize constellations. You can recognize actual stars."
"Every location is correct," Mezier added." That is a big claim, but it's the first time we've seen anything like that, really. To me, the first time we started playing with the software, it was mind-blowing."
Mezier is a French film director who has also done projects in virtual reality. About a year ago, he met Orbital Views representatives at a trade show. At the time, Mezier was pitching an idea for a documentary-length, fully animated stereoscopic film project about the stars. He found Orbital's vision – to bring an interplanetary experience – to be a perfect fit, and began working with the company instead.
Orbital's founder, Amaury Solignac, is the producer of "Overview," which the Paris-based company is using as an example of its virtual-reality technology. The company offers parabolic flights to paying participants, which let them experience microgravity. The company makes VR headsets available on the flights so that the participants can feel as though they were floating in space, or walking on the moon or Mars.
"Overview" can be played in two modes. The first is a passive "story" mode, in which viewers can sit back and take a tour of planets, moons, stars and other nearby objects. The story, which is narrated by British voice actor Anthony Hyde, serves as an introduction to astronomy: Viewers learn about cosmic bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.
The second mode is more active and will eventually allow viewers to zoom around the universe more freely. Two "chapters" are available right now, with one allowing flights around the solar system and the other offering a simple "zoom in, zoom out" experience from Earth to outside the Milky Way galaxy. More chapters will be added in the coming months, Mezier said.
Data used in the game comes from several sources, including the Hipparcos catalog for stars, the New General Catalogue for galaxies, and information from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mezier added.