At 11,000 light-years away, it’s safe to say you won’t be able to visit Cassiopeia A even if private space corporations start selling seats to amateur spacefarers. Thanks to a team of scientists, though, you might be able to see the 300-year-old supernova remnant up close — or even walk inside it. The team used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based facilities to create a 3D model of Cassiopeia A with VR and AR elements. You’ll be able to walk into the model, engage with parts of the remnant and conjure up short captions on what you’re seeing and “touching.”
To build the 3D model, they looked at the elements inside a supernova (such as iron, silicon and argon) and the light they emit when heated. That gave them a way to figure out how fast the supernova’s debris are moving and in what direction. The result is a visualization showing the spherical component making up the outer parts of the remnant and the flat, disk-like component making up the inner part. You can also see high-velocity plumes or jets shooting out of the structure:
Since the team created the model specifically for other astronomers building supernova models, it’s unfortunately not that easy to get your hands on it. You’ll have to contact Kimberly Arcand, the Visualization Lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, to get the open access files for VR caves (immersive VR rooms) and for the Oculus Rift. The team is also working on a Google Cardboard version, so you may want to wait a bit before sending in a request if that’s your preferred device.
Source: Chandra X-ray Observatory