Headset aimed at stargazers

Edinburgh astronomers have combined a virtual reality headset with software to enable anyone to explore the night sky.

Scientists have combined the Oculus Rift system with open-source Stellarium software to enable users with the technology and an internet connection to explore the heavens.

The system, which offers the chance to engage new audiences with the night sky, was demonstrated at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

Researchers hope it will soon will be available as a shared group experience.

Adapted for astronomy

I have always loved showing the stars to people. Some are simply unable to come to places like the Royal Observatory Edinburgh or to travel to dark skies, so this technology could help them enjoy astronomy in a new way.

Alastair BrucePhD researcher, School of Physics and Astronomy

PhD researcher Alastair Bruce and his supervisor Professor Andy Lawrence adapted the Stellarium software system to create the technology.

Bruce saw potential for the Oculus Rift headset, which is expected to be popular in the gaming industry when it goes on sale in 2016, to be adapted for use by astronomy enthusiasts.

A prototype version of the system was well received by audiences during a preview at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Online sessions

The team will very soon release their new beta test open source variety of Stellarium.

This means that anybody with an Oculus Rift headset will be able to download the new software and try it out for themselves.

As well as releasing the new software, and adding features to the code, the researchers want to use the system to run presenter-led group stargazing sessions live over the web.

The team built changes into Stellarium so that their central version could send information to remote versions.

It works beautifully. You feel like you are really outside looking at the starry sky, but it’s 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.

Professor Andy LawrenceSchool of Physics and Astronomy