Use of 3D virtual environments in teaching astronomy and physics

Lucas, Robert and Kolb, Ulrich (2009). Use of 3D virtual environments in teaching astronomy and physics. In: Frontiers in Science Education Research: An international conference on science and mathematics education research, 22-24 Mar 2009, Famagusta, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.



We have developed several 3D graphics applications to support our teaching. Some of these applications create virtual environments. In particular a telescope simulator has been used to introduce students to the controls of a particular telescope that they will then subsequently use at an observatory. Most students have never used a telescope before and find controlling one rather challenging. This results in significant wasted observing time at the observatory. The developed application simulates the sky, the telescope, and the handcontroller. They sky is rendered in a familiar planetarium style. The telescope is a 3-D, fully-animated and textured graphical entity that gives the user the look and feel of the real telescope. The handcontroller works identically to the actual one except within the application it is clicked on with a mouse. This enables the students to gain a familiarity with aligning the telescope before commencing the course. It also allows them to gain a working knowledge of using celestial coordinates and the night sky. This paper describes the simulator and how it has benefitted students.

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