Solar System Scope is a website to visit the solar system in 3D interactively. Solar System Scope is an informative astronomy application made in Flash, it has a good design, it is easy to use and its execution speed is remarkable. I have tested it on Firefox 4 on Windows 7 and with the same browser on Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. It works flawlessly in both cases.
Solar System Scope starts automatically when accessing the portal and as long as we do not execute any action, it will show us its possibilities in an animation with a speed of up to 30 frames per second. On a large screen it is very striking.
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Solar System Scope interface
The Solar System Scope controls are spread over the four edges of the navigation area. In the upper part we have 5 buttons, “about” in the representative icon of the logo, audio control, languages (English and Slovenian), show / hide interface and maximize screen.
On the right side we have a graduated ruler to zoom, maximum at the top, minimum at the bottom. Zoom is also activated with the mouse wheel. On the lower edge we have the time controls: a configurable clock, date to move forward or backward on the calendar and three buttons for fast backward, forward and fast forward. They can be configured, then we see how.
On the left side we have the main buttons, larger than the rest, grouped into three tabs. At the top, there is an arrow accompanied by the question mark. It is used to configure the contextual information that we obtain by pointing the mouse at an object. It has four options, the first three are operative to see / hide information about: planets and the Moon, stars, buttons and interface. The fourth is pending development.
The icon that represents a hand with the index finger pointing, which can be activated or not, allows in the “heliocentric” mode to move a planet on its orbit in time. The single icon tab allows selection of views: heliocentric, geocentric, and panoramic (telescope).
The lower tab has three buttons: configuration, search and information. The options of the first one are almost complete, but not the other two, which are not yet implemented. This gives an idea that the project Solar System Scope is still in an early stage of its development.
The configuration options enabled are: “planets and Moon”, “stars and constellations”, “coordinates of the observation point”, options “time” and “reset” of the heliocentric view.
In “planets and Moon” we have types of orbit (only the heliocentric works at the moment), show / hide names of the planets, show / hide orbits, control of distance scale and scale of sizes of planets and Moon.
In “stars and constellations”, we can configure whether or not we want to see the lines of the constellations as well as their names. In “coordinates of the observation point” we can determine the place of observation from the Earth. You can choose already configured sites, Greenwich is the default point, or select coordinates based on longitude and latitude.
In “time settings”, the time zones and the time accelerator, so that we give the button play (at the bottom of the screen), a speed between 1 and 4 days per second, and fast forward or backward between 2 and 21 days per second.
Solar System Scope Management
To start the virtual visit, we interrupt the welcome animation by clicking on any part of the interactive screen. By default, the displayed view is heliocentric. Navigation in Solar System Scope is done with the mouse. The center wheel zooms. With the left button pressed, moving it to the right and left, we rotate the point of view with the center of rotation in the Sun, from top to bottom, we modify the point of view of the virtual camera.
Hovering the mouse over a planet, two small icons appear. The one on the left is used to visit the planet, the one on the right, to calculate the distance from another. “Visiting” means making an almost maximum zoom on the object visited. In this mode, with the left mouse button pressed, the object can be rotated in all possible directions.
The same icon that has allowed us to visit a planet, if pressed again, returns us to the view before the visit. The calculation of distances is very interesting, since it provides this according to the real position of the two objects compared as a function of time.
Today, for example, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is 379,610 km according to the program. If we now switch to the geocentric view, the measurement is maintained, we observe the Earth from the Greenwich meridian, it is dawn over the Atlantic and the Moon is in a waxing quarter.
Another interesting feature is to move the mouse across the background of the Universe, the brightest points correspond to the most visible stars. In the camera view I’m driving, in the upper part to the left of the twilight zone, if I mark the first point of light that stands out, it informs me that it is the star Procyon, which is 11.41 light years away.
Conclusions on Solar System Scope
Solar System Scope is not yet completed as we have seen, but it is an interesting application that allows you to have a schematic view of the surrounding and curious Universe to get started in the exciting world of astronomy.
I invite you to try it and play with the controls. You can predict an eclipse and show your friends that, according to this application, the supposed planetary alignment foreseen by the Mayans in December 2012 is not going to occur and it will not be the end of the world.
Web | Solar System Scope
In Engadget Science | Solar System Simulator