Imagine a solar system that fits into the palm of your hand. About 10 months ago, video game designer Christopher Albeluhn did, and now he's taken that vision to the public in a bid to boldly go where no edutainment application has gone before.
Albeluhn's software, "The Solar System: Explore Your Backyard," began as a portfolio-expanding project for the unemployed British Columbia-based video game designer. As he explains on its Indiegogo page, Albeluhn's original concept was to "create planet Earth in a video game engine," but as he added levels of scope and depth, the simulation began to take on astronomical proportions.
"Every night I began making it bigger, better, and more of what I wanted to see in a space program," Albeluhn wrote on the project's page.
Soon, the program included eight planets, their moons, the sun, and the 88 standard constellations. Perhaps most impressively, Albeluhn included "correct rotations, orbits, locations and speeds" for the solar system's planets and the sun, based on scientific data.
Built using the Unreal Engine, a platform traditionally used for first-person shooters and role-playing games, "Explore Your Backyard" is currently being developed for the PC. Albeluhn told Venture Beat that he's currently focused on releasing his simulation on that platform, but that a port for Android and hand-held iOS devices like iPad and iPhone would be possible if his project meets its fundraising goal of $8,000.
As an interactive, hands-on way for students to learn about the solar system, Albeluhn's program has the makings of a great teaching tool. According to the application's official website, "Explore Your Backyard" is "designed from the ground up with the distinct intent to make exploring and learning about the solar system fun, entertaining, informative and very natural."
While the program's many features might pose a bit of a learning curve, its depth and customizability set it apart from other solar system sims.
"Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe" application, for example, has been criticized by users for lack of depth. The NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab-produced "Eyes on the Solar System" Web app tracks the movement of asteroids and historic human-made satellites through the solar system, which Albeluhn intends to include on a later version of "Explore Your Backyard."
According to Venture Beat, Albeluhn also wants to include dwarf planets, a viewing library and more detailed models in future releases.
The Huffington Post e-mailed Albeluhn for comment, but received no reply as of press time.
Ableluhn responded to HuffPost's request in an e-mail on Monday, offering some additional insight regarding his project's background and future plans.
"Growing up I had always wished I could explore space my way, and this project has turned into exactly that," he wrote. "There are many space related applications out there, but most are bland and unable to draw in new users. This project aims to change that."
While the program features lots of neat graphics, Albeluhn maintains that the scale of his model is accurate, and that he "double, triple and quadruple checked the locations... cross referencing... to other solar system applications to ensure the accuracy of the locations, orientations and speeds."
And although Albeluhn's universe is expanding, there are limits to what he'll include in it.
"There is always the possibility to add in Pluto later on, however since it was downgraded to a dwarf planet, I would need to add in every dwarf planet in the solar system... Details can be added in for future builds or upgrades, however for now I'm sad to say that it looks as if Pluto will be left out," he wrote.