Exoplanet Explorer: Improving navigation
One of the things I was particularly pleased about in the V2.2.0 release of Solar Explorer was the improved navigation, giving the app more of a feel of flying between the planets.
It was actually pretty difficult to implement. Although my development tool of choice, Shiva3D, reduces the time needed to write an app and and makes it compatible with many more devices, it’s limited to using relatively small numbers for positioning objects in a virtual world. This means that the “universe” in your phone or tablet is a box which is about 100,000 units square, in which no object can be smaller than 1 unit in diameter or the 3D engine can’t draw it.
It sounds like a lot, but consider Deimos at about 12km/7.5mi in diameter as the smallest object in the app, and thus equal to one unit. The Sun is over 110,000 times larger than Deimos, so it would actually be bigger than the 3D universe, while the Solar System out to the widest orbit of Pluto is over 10,000 times larger than that!
Now you have some idea how difficult it’s been trying to cram an area of space 800 light years across, approximately 1 million times the size of our Solar System, into Exoplanet Explorer using the same 100,000 square units of virtual universe space, and make travelling between the stars feel like flying, rather than jumping around.
Early last week in a fit of insanity, I decided to rip the guts out of Exoplanet Explorer and transplant a version of the navigation code from it’s cousin Solar Explorer. It had to be heavily modified and it’s taken longer than I’d hoped (slowed by holiday events and a quick update for the donor app), but I’m pleased to say that the unplanned operation has been a success and the patient has made a full recovery.
The next release of Exoplanet Explorer will feature a lot less teleporting through space.
Now that the data extraction script has been written, the app has been modified to read the new format and the new navigation code is complete, it’s finally time to add some new features!
Items on the agenda include merging the system info and search results boxes to make it easier to use, a new page providing all the detail stored in the database, including details such planet surface temperatures. Also, drawing multiple stars in binary systems and new star models that represent some of the other exotic star types are on the list. Finally, I’m hoping to add a name search that will let you type the name of a system with a virtual keyboard to find specific systems when they come up in the news.