The Intergalactic University of Utah project helps bring the celestial sphere to your laptop

In this computer model, the OSIRIS-REx satellite is seen as it will appear on September 24, 2023, when it passes close to Earth and will drop a capsule containing an asteroid sample. The sample will land by parachute at the Utah Test and Training Range in Toile County. (Jane Payne, OpenSpace)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

Salt Lake City – Want to go to Mars? Or how about a visit to the James Webb Space Telescope? A virtual, real-time visit to these places is taking place through a project at the University of Utah’s Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging.

The project, funded in part by NASA, provides scientifically accurate visualizations of objects in the celestial sphere, including planets, satellites, and other NASA missions.

Enabling outer space research from the home is one of the many projects at the Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging. The institute contributes to the development of an open source software called OpenSpace. This downloadable program allows anyone to follow the real time or past and future path and location of many objects in outer space.

“It’s a very open framework for being able to show any kind of space content, telescopes, data from probes, missions that have been sent and anything from planetary scale to showing where galaxies are, and known galaxies located in the universe,” says Jane Payne, software developer Research at the Institute.

OpenSpace is largely used by planetariums, museums, university professors, and even by YouTube content creators. Since it is an open source software, it is free to use and there is no limit to who uses it because anyone can.

Chuck Hansen is the principal investigator on the project at the Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging. “The ultimate goal of the project is to take NASA data to the masses, to show the public what NASA is doing with their mission data,” Hansen says.

“It’s also part of an educational push,” says Payne.

The Institute is developing OpenSpace in collaboration with the other official partners of the project: the American Museum of Natural History, New York University and Linköping University in Sweden.

Hansen says the invitation to NASA to join the development of OpenSpace came to the University of Utah, based on the university’s reputation for computer graphics and scientific visualization. This is where the University of Utah makes its main contribution.

Payne says the University of Utah has a “good history in graphics.”

Another part of the Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging’s contribution is the addition of additional features to the program.

US developers have made OpenSpace “read a (NASA) mission and run it in time…or run it forward. We can see where the mission is, at a specific time.”

“The really important thing here is that there are no performances of artistic impression,” says Payne. “Everything is scientifically accurate.”

The James Webb Telescope display is viewed through OpenSpace at the University of Utah's Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging in Salt Lake City.
The James Webb Telescope display is viewed through OpenSpace at the University of Utah’s Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Jane Payne, OpenSpace)

James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched on Christmas Day 2021, is located in a solar orbit 1 million miles from Earth.

The 14,000-pound telescope always stays behind a solar shield measuring 69 feet by 46 feet, or roughly the size of a tennis court.

This shield keeps the telescope constantly cool and less affected by infrared sunlight. This allows the telescope’s infrared images to come back clean, says Payne.

An OpenSpace view of the James Webb Space Telescope's orbit shows the telescope's orbit.
An OpenSpace view of the James Webb Space Telescope’s orbit shows the telescope’s orbit. (Photo: Jane Barry, OpenSpace)

Through OpenSpace, users can track the telescope from its location at Lagrange Point, or L2. The Lagrange point is the ideal location for a telescope to orbit the sun, balancing the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth, allowing the telescope to use a minimum amount of fuel.

OpenSpace users can follow the telescope from launch and watch the telescope unfold its golden mirror and reach its destination. “It uses real-time NASA data for locations,” Payne said. “It’s the actual path and where it’s headed.”

The result is stunning images that the Hubble telescope cannot capture.

Parachute jumping from an asteroid to Utah

One of the satellites launched by NASA, called OSIRIS-REx, is set to land a valuable payload to Tooele County in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx — or Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — launched back in 2016 and made a rapid flyby of Earth in 2017 to increase speed before heading deeper into space.

Its mission is NASA’s first: to obtain a sample from an asteroid and return the sample to Earth.

The target was Bennu, an asteroid close to Earth. The satellite arrived at Bennu in 2018, spending two years in orbit and taking some debris from the asteroid’s surface. Cameras made by a team at Utah State University were on board the satellite, which helped navigate around and land on the asteroid.

In May 2021, OSIRIS-REx began its journey back to Earth. It will pass over Earth on September 24, 2023, when this rubble is delivered to Earth and falls from space on the Utah Test and Training Range in Twieley County.

“There’s a bit of drama there, too,” Payne said. “One of those earlier missions was where it was returning an actual sample from an asteroid, and it parachuted properly, but it hit really hard, opened the can and kind of polluted the sample.” .

After landing from the top of Utah, ORISIS-REx will begin a longer mission to the asteroid Apophis.

Artemis I

Like many space watchers, the team at the Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging was looking forward to the Artemis rocket launch, a major step for the return of astronauts to the lunar surface.

Faced with technical problems, defective equipment and a hurricane, Artemis I was delayed several times.

When Artemis I finally launches, the entire flight will be restored on OpenSpace.

“When the Artemis missions go to the moon, OpenSpace will be ready to show the details of that,” Hansen says.

An OpenSpace view of the Moon and Earth is seen on a large exhibitor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on October 24.
OpenSpace’s view of the Moon and Earth on a large viewer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on October 24 (Photo: Matt Brooks, KSL.com)

So, for that trip to Mars, it doesn’t have to be just a flight.

“We have the terrain images available, for Earth, obviously, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, all the planets that we used with probes or telescopes to get images of the terrain,” Payne said.

Or, if staying close to home is your preferred itinerary, you have that option.

“We have a satellite in orbit around the Earth, every day taking pictures of the entire globe…these are the actual cloud formations as they existed yesterday,” Payne said.

You can learn more about the OpenSpace project and download the latest version of the software at the OpenSpace website.

An OpenSpace rendering of the International Space Station is seen on a viewer at the University of Utah's Institute for Scientific Computing and Imaging in Salt Lake City on October 24.
An OpenSpace view of the International Space Station on a viewer at the University of Utah Institute of Scientific Computing and Imaging in Salt Lake City on October 24 (Photo: Matt Brooks, KSL.com)

Pictures

Related stories

Latest Utah higher education stories

Matt Brooks is a web producer with KSL.com. Previously he worked for KSL NewsRadio.

More stories you might be interested in

#Intergalactic #University #Utah #project #helps #bring #celestial #sphere #laptop

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *