Exoplanet Explorers is launching on Monday 4 October for World Space Week

Budding space enthusiasts can become "Exoplanet Explorers" in new online game

Aspiring astronomers and budding young space enthusiasts are set to be given a unique opportunity to hunt for distant planets far outside our solar system, thanks to a cutting-edge, interactive new online game.

World-leading astrophysicists from the University of Exeter have teamed with award winning digital production studio Fish In A Bottle, to create a fun, immersive and scientifically informed online game for curious people of all ages, funded by UK Research and Innovation, through a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Nucleus grant and supported by a Future Leaders Fellowship.

The game is also accompanied by a new 360 degree animation, featuring a visually spectacular journey through a potential future exploring distant worlds, narrated by researchers and school children. This second instalment builds on the success of our first 360 degree animation featuring a mini-documentary style tour of real exoplanets actively studied by the researchers guiding the viewer.   

The game, called Exoplanet Explorers, offers players a distinctive opportunity to immerse themselves in the pioneering realm of exoplanet-hunting scientists. Players employ in-game versions of real scientific methods – based on techniques used by astrophysicists – to piece together the location and structure of distant exoplanets.  

As the players unravel the mysteries of these far-away planets, they are able to gain more ‘funding’ for their research, allowing them to make greater discoveries advancing our knowledge as they go along.  

The team added to the realism of the experience by using the names and characteristics of real exoplanets within the game, allowing budding astronomers the chance to use the online experience as a basis for finding out more about the exciting realm of exoplanet research.  

The game was co-developed, over the past two years, with a number of students aged between nine to 17 from three schools and colleges in Devon (United Kingdom), alongside science communication experts from science centre We The Curious and Visual Effects partners at Engine House VFX.  

This blend of active researchers, students, alongside visualisation, communication and gaming experts has resulted in an engaging and informative game, which could also be used within classrooms.   

The team believe the game provides a fantastic opportunity for people from all backgrounds to engage with some of the most unique and exciting space-science research happening right now.  

Professor Nathan Mayne, from the University of Exeter and scientific lead on the project said: “Although it was certainly challenging (I felt like I was back at school!), this was a very rewarding project to be involved in.

"Interacting with, and learning from the knowledge, experience and perspectives of all the different contributors was an extremely enjoyable experience, and we hope this has resulted in an engaging game which may light the spark of curiosity in those who play it.”  

Launching on Monday 4 October for World Space Week, the  game will  be showcased on the website for science and arts centre,  ‘We The Curious’ in Bristol, alongside the two VR experience videos.  

Content from the exoplanets project also features in the current ‘Autumn Stargazing’ show in We The Curious’ 3D Planetarium. In this presenter led show visitors and school groups can explore an alien night sky after choosing which exoplanet to visit.

Additionally, the game and associated visualisations will be incorporated in a exhibit at the National Space Centre to be completed early 2022.  

Jennifer Hendriksz, a Digital Producer and Project Manager for Fish In a Bottle, added: “It’s always challenging to strike the right balance between scientific accuracy and fun. We needed to simplify the real tests used for discovering exoplanets in a way that preserved the essence of what scientists really do. 

"This is always tough but it’s an area where we’ve got a lot of experience. User testing is a great way to check if you’ve got the right balance.”  

Frances Britton, who helped develop the game said: “I had great fun helping out Exoplanet Explorers. It’s an experiential game that puts you in the shoes of a scientist and teaches you about exoplanets as you progress. 

"That concept was something I greatly liked from the start, and it was wonderful to help develop a game that combines newer technology and stunning graphics into an educational game.”  

Date: 4 October 2021

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