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Galactic Center VR

Published onJun 01, 2020
Galactic Center VR

“Galactic Center VR” is our public outreach app available on two VR platforms: Steam and Viveport. Using the HTC Vive VR headset, which has motion tracking and six degrees of freedom (6dof), the user is transported to the inner parsec around Sgr A*, our galaxy's supermassive black hole. They can move anywhere and look anywhere they choose, giving them the complete freedom to explore our simulation of the region as they see fit. Developed with the game engine Unity and the SteamVR package, the app displays a position- and size-dependent marker for each element in the hydrodynamic simulation that is colored according to the element's density and X-ray emissivity. Then the summation of these markers along the user's viewing vector at that particular time yields a composite of column density (dominated by the cold gas) and X-ray emission (only from hot gas). The black hole and orbiting stars have their own markers, so all elements in the hydro simulation are shown in the VR app. After presenting this via one-on-one demos to eclipse aficionados and locals in July 2019 for the solar eclipse in the north of Chile, as well as a metaphorical seal of approval from a Nobel Laureate, we packaged the app with the aim of being self-contained in order to widely distribute it to VR users. This involved adding a tutorial explaining the simulation; incorporating options to look at only the column density, only the X-rays, or both; adding the option to see just one wind's elements at a time; including the necessary VR-controller-attached instructions and menus for the app's successful navigation; and providing options to use the app completely in English or Spanish. After submitting the marketing material and having the VR stores themselves test the app, “Galactic Center VR” is now available for free on Steam and Viveport, two of the most popular VR gaming platforms. This presentation will discuss the development of the app with Unity and SteamVR, the unique exploration ability afforded only via VR due to its ability to move and look anywhere, and some things learned via submitting the app for distribution. We will also discuss our plans of future updates to the app, which is currently focused on adding time evolution of the simulation, so the user can move around Sgr A* while the stars are orbiting, the winds are colliding, and material is flowing towards the supermassive black hole.

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