Newswise — Virtual explorers can now travel even farther via the science of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

The latest edition of WebbVR: The James Webb Space Telescope Virtual Experience debuts a detailed exoplanet discovery module and Spanish-language options, in addition to fixes and upgrades to existing content. The new edition is available for free download on Steam and Viveport

WebbVR is a combined entertainment and learning experience, based on real NASA data and the upcoming NASA Webb Telescope mission, which will open up new frontiers in infrared astronomy. Science covered in WebbVR includes: solar system planets and moons, galaxies, black holes, planet formation, stellar lifecycles—and now, extrasolar planetary systems.

“We are very excited to be able to offer an interactive exoplanet module in this WebbVR edition - to get people excited about the discoveries that Webb will enable in planetary systems beyond our own,” said Alexandra Lockwood-Simpson, Project Scientist for Webb Science Communication at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Users will learn about three methods astronomers use to discover exoplanets orbiting distant stars, and then try their hand at “using” those methods from various vantage points in a simulated planetary system.  Once discovered, planets can be “visited” from the perspective of an orbiting spacecraft. Developers created a unique but realistic surface appearance for each exoplanet, in accordance with the size of the planet and distance from the host star of the system.

For existing fans of WebbVR who enjoyed the opportunity to explore the moons and planets in our own solar system, there is more to learn there as well. “We’ve added more details about the planets and moons in our cosmic backyard, which will be an important part of Webb’s scientific mission,” said lead developer Chad Smith.

The WebbVR development team is also very excited to be able to open the experience up to Spanish speakers with the new edition. 

“The Webb Telescope is a publicly funded mission through NASA, and we want as many people as possible to feel engaged and excited about the mission and its science,” said Lockwood-Simpson. “Offering WebbVR in Spanish is one way we are working toward that goal.”  In addition to providing WebbVR for download on Steam and Viveport, the development team showcases it at public events when possible. 

To experience WebbVR, users will need an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset and a compatible computer (PC with appropriate graphics processor). In the effort to bring Webb science home, WebbVR is developed in consultation with astrophysicists, who ensure that its simulations incorporate Newtonian gravity, realistic gas viscosity, and collision physics. WebbVR is developed by the Space Telescope Science Institute in partnership with Northrop Grumman.

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WebbVR: The James Webb Space Telescope Virtual Experience