What lies beyond our solar system? Are there other Earth-like planets? What exotic worlds will we discover?
What is an Exoplanet?
For centuries, scientists and philosophers speculated about the existence of planets outside the solar system. As we and our neighbouring planets orbit a star, it was plausible that distant stars could host their own planets and systems. However, until relatively recently, there was no way of confirming the existence of these distant worlds.
This changed in 1992 when several terrestrial-mass planets were found orbiting the pulsar PSR B1257+12, followed quickly in 1995 by the discovery of the first planet orbiting a Sun-like star (recently recognised with the award of a Nobel Prize) As of 1 January 2020, a total of 4,160 of these planets have been confirmed. We now know these planets are not only present but also they are likely more numerous than the stars in the sky, presenting a diverse range of environments.
These planets have become known as “Exoplanets”. Modern research has shown us that some of these distant worlds are potentially able to support liquid water, intensifying the search for extraterrestrial life.
Creating a Scientifically Accurate Experience
We wanted to tell this extraordinary story in a way that was accessible and exciting but also scientifically accurate. To ensure this, we teamed up with the astrophysics team at the University of Exeter and created a unique exoplanet discovery experience in VR and 360.
The result was Exoplanet Explorers 2, an experience that transports the viewer on a journey into the future as they explore wildly new environments and destinations, allowing them to experience exploring the planets.
Scientifically informed, the experience builds on the success of a previous video which introduces the scientific research teaching us about exoplanets. This previous video now has more than 8 million views on YouTube and was celebrated as a Lovie Award winner in 2018.
Capturing the Stunning Visuals
One of the key targets with the project was to stay as true visually to exoplanets as we could. This was something that had never been done before, and we were tasked with bringing to life environments that have never been witnessed by the human eye.
To achieve this, we used feedback and guidance from the researchers who were informed by real data. We took used this information to create high-quality photo-realistic visuals in-house, creating an experience that was as realistic and immersive as possible.
Inspiring the next Generation with Planets in Their Pocket
Exoplanet Explorers 2 was designed with a goal in mind. We wanted to touch and inspire as many young people as possible, and create the next generation of scientists.
With this goal in mind, 360 video was an obvious choice. Putting a user in an immersive space has a unique ability to stir emotion, and in this case, create an emotional link between the viewer and space. By placing young people in this simulated environment, we were showing them that they can aspire to careers in the field regardless of background.
Exoplanet Explorers 2 is a game-changing immersive experience that builds upon a successful first video and a partnership based on trust and passion – for storytelling, stunning visuals and space. This video is not only a display of impressive technical feats, it also holds the powerful message that any young person can aspire to professional careers in space. Because the experience is immersive and realistic, it makes space accessible as well as fascinating and inspiring.
Exoplanet Explorers 2 was shortlisted for the VR awards 2019 in the Education and Training Experience of the Year category.
The video can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYn8yc7PIns
Engine House on Twitter: @EngineHouseVFX