Setting up astronomy aware virtual/augmented worlds

Virtual world with Digital Terrain Model, historic monuments and motion of visible celestial objects

The following sections will cover the implementation of such a tool:


Since 1996 I have been doing work on virtual worlds (Maes Howe; Reijs [1998], page 18 and Ashmore [1999], page 11) and this project evolved in:
Creating an astronomy aware virtual world tool that can dynamically (under user control and preferable interactive/real-time) project the visible celestial objects (like visible stars, sun and planets) in a virtual world consisting of a DTM (Digital Terrain Model) projection of the environment and the (historical) monuments.
This all with proper accuracy and features (like stepping though time: the forth dimension/4D) for former times (at minimum from 4000 BCE).

Initial tools for making virtual world

The project has involved/developed the following tools (see my methodology, which is quoted by Schaefer [2000], page 131): As you can understand from this long list it is quite cumbersome, so I am looking from something easier.

Existing projects, involving the above tools, have created a VRML world and Real video of the Boyne Valley, Ireland and monuments Wéris, Belgium. A world including time steps, so including the forth dimension for stepping through the ages, is the Maeshowe project in Orkney. Another 4D world is related to rebuilding Newgrange for the Burning Man 2004 festival.

The astronomy aware virtual world (a combination of making a realistic sky [with moving celestial objects] and a DTM) is an unique and not yet available product and I am sure this can be made a good (shareware) tool for use in the archaeocosmology environment.

Some people/organisations working in the archaeoastronomy are very interested in such a virtual world combining astronomy and DTM:

Some astronomical (3D/4D) related programs:

Progress on making an astronomy aware 4D virtual world

The following progress has been made as proof of concept: A prototype VRML world using the above is available (watch the download time of the world, it is around 70 kByte).

BS Contact VRML 6.2, Cortona 4.2 and/or blaxxun Contact 5.104 are recommended for this type of world.
A few features don't work in Cosmo Player 2.1.1 (Windows) so it is not a good VRML plug-in for this type of world.

I learned a lot making this prototype, so if you want to exchange experience, let me know; I can give you access to my experience page.

Augmented reality system

Beside the above 4D virtual world, I would like to include in this project the opposite of the virtual world: an augmented reality system (which is a continuation of my SetRise tool):
A real-time tool than can project on a view of the real world the moving celestial objects in former times. Thinking here about using a VR helmet or a simpler/cheaper method (I have some ideas;-).
In this way one can just stand in the real world, toggle through former time and see what happens. This methodology hopefully prevents the possible problems in rendering steep local changes in terrain's, like the error Thom ([1971], page 68) made at Callanish.

More information on augmented worlds, see this SURFnet site.

In search of co-developers

To implement the above, I am looking for co-developers (e.g. programmers or students wanting to do a BSc in astronomy related to archaeology: archaeoastronomy or archaeocosmology). So anybody interested in this, please let me know. If it is possible to create something like a shareware solution, that would be great.


I would like to thank the following people for their help and constructive feedback: Bill Angel, Dave Arendash, Gerard Druiven, David Jones, Phillip Sand Hansel, Kim Veltman and all other unmentioned people. Any remaining errors in methodology or results are my responsibility of course!!! If you want to provide constructive feedback, let me know.

Disclaimer and Copyright

Major content related changes: Dec 5th, 2002