Exoplanet Explorer HD: nearly complete
Shortly after the last update of Solar Explorer HD, I began seriously working on re-writing my last Shiva app, Exoplanet Explorer.
Things have been going smoothly and it’s now starting to look great. At this stage, most of the screens from the old version have been recreated and improved.
The main things left to finish are free flight mode (the same as in Solar Explorer), transitions between the galaxy and solar system view, sound effects/music and of course polishing.
This will of course be a free upgrade for existing users of Exoplanet Explorer.
The original version of the app was written eons ago (back in 2011) and was designed to run on much slower devices using as little data as possible. This meant that each planet update was dished out as a separate XML file. Unfortunately (or fortunately for exoplanet buffs), the number of planets has ballooned over the years. This lead to updates triggering the download of hundreds of tiny XML files which overloaded my server’s resources when multiple people accessed it at the same time. The paid version of Exoplanet Explorer HD will support importing CSV files in the PHL format., as provided by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory website. This also means that you’ll be able to get the data from them as soon as new planets are added. You can also create your own data files with anything you like in them.
The new rendering engine is a huge upgrade over the old one, which was starting to creak under the wight of more than 1,000 systems. Because it’s a lot more powerful, you’ll be able to import the lists of unconfirmed planets (assuming sufficient information), such as NASA’s Kepler list which has over 4,000 planets. Based on my tests with Galaxy Explorer, the new Exoplanet Explorer should be capable of loading tens-of-thousands of planets at the same time.
All the languages that Solar Explorer supports will be also supported by Exoplanet Explorer. The app is intended to be accessible for people who are casually interested, so using terms such as “Mercurian” to describe a Mercury like planet may be confusing to non-English speakers. The non-English translations of such terms will use a brief description such as “Mercury type” to describe these terms. The English version will stick to the official terminology.
As the name suggests, all graphics are now in HD with 32 bit colour. The old Exoplanet Explorer was stuck rendering at 16bit due to the technology of the time. I’m glad that I originally created all the graphics in 32bit HD, and downscaled for the old Exoplanet Explorer. It saved me a lot of time.
Eventually, the app will be getting the Free flight mode as seen in Solar System Explorer.
Finally, with a later release, I’m hoping to expand the planet generator to handle the Earth Similarity Index as provided by the PHL. This is a further sub-categorisation of worlds based on how similar they are to Earth. When fully supported, it will add another four planet varieties.