I want to be suspended in inter-galactic space
July 8, 2019 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Not long ago, I downloaded a Hubble image of a galactic cluster as a new wallpaper for my browser. The problem is, every time I see the image—which is now multiple times a day—my desire to be IN the picture intensifies. By that I mean, I want the experience of being in deep space, surrounded by galaxies.

Of course, I don't think the actual experience I'm looking for will be possible before the year 202019, if then. So, I'm looking for a reasonable facsimile. My question is: where on earth can I find it? Are there any good planetarium shows that can make me feel like I'm out in space? (In general, I've been disappointed by the quality of the images in planetarium shows, but maybe they've improved in the years since I last saw a show). Or maybe an Imax movie? Any ideas are welcome!
posted by Transl3y to Science & Nature (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
How about virtual reality?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:21 PM on July 8, 2019

I want the experience of being in deep space, surrounded by galaxies.

Here's the thing, though: you are in deep space, surrounded by galaxies.

To get a really visceral sense of this, I recommend eating psilocybin mushrooms while lying on your back in the sand on a clear night in an Australian desert.
posted by flabdablet at 9:35 PM on July 8, 2019 [39 favorites]

Seconding virtual reality.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:38 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

A step down from VR maybe, but I've experimented a little with the app Celestia and zooming around "in space" was amazing. I tried navigating on my own and, as you might imagine, ended up stranded who knows how many light-years away from Sol in short order. It was great. Even better, it's open-source, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
posted by yhlee at 9:47 PM on July 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

It’s not quite what you are after - but what about spending some time in a sensory deprivation tank (or a float/isolation tank). Plenty around at various alternate medical providers. You get some of the elements that could trick your brain into thinking you are in deep space - a sense of weightlessness, no sound, darkness etc.

Lacks the visual element directly you are after but perhaps if you experience extreme relaxation in the tank you can sleep/day dream more readily about being in the galactic structure of your choice - just floating silently through the pillars of creation.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:12 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh and I guess sensory deprivation tank plus VR may be an even better experience. You get the visuals, plus weightlessness, plus high degree of sensory isolation from the rest of the world. Quick Googling around tends to suggest people are starting to do this (of the “hey I took my portable VR system into an isolation tank and it was really really cool” type experimentation) but it doesn’t seem mainstream yet. But maybe something to look into and ask around about.

Disclaimer: I would be a little nervous about taking anything electronic into a salt water isolation tank for obvious reasons.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:31 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would try a deprivation tank first. A lot of massage places have them.
posted by xammerboy at 12:31 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Celestia is a good place to start, but I'm gonna recommend Space Engine, which is billed as an interactive planetarium, which runs on Windows. It's $25 on Steam, and it expands on the known universe with procedurally generated planets, starscapes, and so on-- speculative views of known exoplanets, for example. It does have a VR implementation, it appears, though I haven't tried it. Celestia is the cheap (free!) option, and Space Engine is a paid option, so your first choice is clear, but the second choice may be even better for what you're looking for.

The creator of Space Engine has made a 30-minute VR movie that opens with a tour of the Earth system, the greater solar system, and then out and beyond; that movie is called Overview.

That video is hosted by a company called Orbital Views which provides a dramatic interactive VR service-- how'd you like to experience moon-based VR in actual lunar gravity, 1/6ths of that of Earth? They can provide that by selling you a ticket on the 'Vomit Comet," the aircraft that can simulate any level of gravity between zero gee and 2-3 gee by flying parabolic dives and climbs. This doesn't fit your request, but I note it because it'll ring someone's bell here.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:21 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wonder if something like Yayoi Kusama's immersive artworks would do this. They aren't explicitly space-themed, but some of them involve standing in the middle of a room with lots of little lights and mirrors on every surface, and for me they have that quality of being suspended in infinite space that might give you the sensation that you are looking for.
posted by Jabberwocky at 1:44 AM on July 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

SCUBA diving in the dark? Somewhere inhabited by creatures that are bioluminescent. Would be nice to have a full-face mask big enough for a VR rig and do it in a pool. Step 3: Profit.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:58 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

A sensory deprivation/float tank might do the trick, and might be your cheapest/easiest option. Some of them have little lights to mimic a starry sky, but I prefer complete darkness.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think I just had the experience you're looking for! Acadia National Park in Maine has an amphitheater in the Blackwoods campground. It's a large, open-air space with many long, wide wooden benches. On clear nights, we walked there, lay flat on the benches and stargazed for as long as our backs could stand it. The Milky Way spilled out in front of us. Stars stars stars, more than I'd ever seen in my life. The amphitheater is circled by forest, so you could see a ring of treetops in your peripheral vision, which made it feel like we were floating in a bowl of sky. We went late at night, so it was silent except for breezes through the trees. It drove home what flabdablet pointed out above, which is that we are in space right now, only it's easy to forget since we're so often separated from the enormity of it by the effects of light pollution.

Afterwards, I told people I went to outer space. This was one of those "peak life experience" kinds of times for me. It doesn't necessarily have to be Maine. I hope you find your stars!
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:47 AM on July 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

Wow. Incredible answers. So glad I asked.
I recommend eating psilocybin mushrooms while lying on your back in the sand on a clear night in an Australian desert.
I'm absolutely determined to do that some day (hopefully sooner rather than later)—although I'm afraid I'll have to substitute a dark sky location* in the northern hemisphere for the Australian outback. (* I'm thinking The Badlands, perhaps. But that's a topic for another question.)

But until then, the idea of virtual reality is brilliant. It seems obvious, in retrospect, but it never would have occurred to me, so thanks!

Thanks also for the celestia and space engine suggestions. Although the celestia faq page does burst my bubble, though only a bit:
Celestia's galaxies are ugly, dim, grey blobs. How can I get colorful galaxies that look like the real things?

The real things are dim, grey blobs. Your eyes are not sensitive to color at the very low light levels emitted by distant galaxies. Many of the colorful pictures you're used to seeing are enhanced by long exposures on sensitive color film.
The message is that the experience I imagine having is only possible virtually, and never in reality. I should have realized that. After all, the only part of the Andromeda galaxy that is bright enough to see with the naked eye is a colorless fuzzy dot—despite the fact that the galaxy is actually so close to us—astronomically speaking—that it spans more of the night sky than the full moon—a fact that never fails to astound me.

As for the sensory deprivation tank—I can only wish. Being ADD-ish, I suspect I'd crawl out of my skin before I got close to having a meaningful out of body experience. Although combining VR with sensory deprivation could change things entirely.

And Acadia! One of my favorite places on earth. Now I've got yet another reason to go back.
posted by Transl3y at 6:01 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stars stars stars, more than I'd ever seen in my life

With the greatest respect, you poor deprived denizens of the Northern Hemisphere can have no idea what being flat on your back in a proper starfield can be like until you've done it well south of the equator.

The message is that the experience I imagine having is only possible virtually, and never in reality.

Psilocybin will disabuse you of that misapprehension. The sense of HOLY FUCK THIS IS REAL, THIS IS WHERE I AM AND THIS IS ACTUALLY HOW IT IS is not quickly forgotten.
posted by flabdablet at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

On the note of VR, for PSVR there's the game "Megaton Rainfall" . I haven't played it myself, but I've seen many people mention there favourite part is sometimes just flying off into space and leaving the big blue ball behind.

There's also a 360 degree video simulating (via NASA images, plus lots of fun rendering magic) being out on the edge of space, and then free falling back to earth.
posted by nobeagle at 6:31 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another thought. What about hypnosis or guided meditation - given you have been focused on a Hubble picture maybe that could be a starting point for an experienced meditation guide to take you on a journey?
posted by inflatablekiwi at 6:37 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Like askmes for pet names...pictures please! Which galaxy cluster? There's a deep sky preserve in western Pennsylvania (no street lights allowed for miles around, mostly woods anyway, etc) which has the darkest skies in the US. Also the planetarium at the AMNH has a zeiss mark 10 star projector...which oddly they use very little (mostly their shows are done with (very high quality) video projection), but when they do it is pretty awesome. It can replicate the night sky exactly...up to several hundred light years away(!)...as in "what does the night sky look like in another solar system?"...which is pretty cool. If you're ever in NYC it's worth checking out.
Also, haha, even if you left now at the speed of light, by 202019, you'd barely be out of the milky way. I suggest "up" as a direction b/c then you could look down on the whole thing and send me some pictures of the minor galaxy that it’s currently eating over on the other side.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:35 AM on July 9, 2019

Flabdablet, I have always wanted to visit Oz, now I really, really want to visit.

There is a Dark Sky Assn, some US National Parks have the International Dark Sky certification, Acadia included, and a Night Sky Festival in Acadia. Light Pollution map to help you find places.

Some years ago, we were on the island of Crete, in a village where the generator was shut down at night. My partner woke me up in the middle of the night to look at the stars, in the blackest night I've ever experienced. It looked like velvet. The stars were bright and seemed so close, glittering. Probably the best gift my now ex- ever gave me.

great question, thanks for posting it. I need to get my act together for more night sky astrotourism. Until you experience dark skies and truly bright stars and planets, you can't know what you're missing.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dark sky park NSW
posted by flabdablet at 10:44 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Google images
posted by flabdablet at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Longtime lurker, signed up an account just to post this:

Elite Dangerous.

It is a 1:1 representation of our galaxy, in which you can explore/trade/fight as you wish, of which only 0.4% has actually been discovered by players. I'm told that if you play the VR version (included, afaik, with the base game purchase) it is very much like actually being there. Do not pay list price for the game - between Steam, Humble Bundle, and the actual game site (above), it is frequently on sale somewhere, for a much reduced price.

I signed up an account specifically to post this... because Elite Dangerous scratches exactly that itch for me, which is why I play.

Feel free to ping me for more information about it.
posted by WaywardPlane at 12:31 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the thing that would blow my mind about a dark sky park in Australia is how all the constellations are wrong different. But I guess if you want to feel like you're in a new part of the universe that just might do it. FWIW in this hemisphere the Grand Canyon has some spectacular night skies but the clearest, darkest sky I've ever seen was in Capital Reef National Park. I've never seen the Milky Way that clearly in my life.
posted by fedward at 4:41 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sexyrobot, glad you asked. My galactic cluster is Stephan's Quintet

Flabdablet, I never appreciated that there is a qualitative difference between the view from the top and the bottom of the planet (or the bottom and the top—I'm no chauvinist). So, now I'm burning with jealousy at my bad luck for being born north of the equator. (This NYT article really sticks the knife in.) What's worse is I live in a city that is famed for its trees. 99 percent of the time, all I can see of the sky is a pukey little patch of undifferentiated haze right overhead. It's not even worth looking up. Now my goal is: a warm moonless night on a southern Australian beach with mushrooms and ocean swells. If you throw in some bioluminscent plankton, I could die happy.

Wow. Acadia night sky festival is a must do. Although I like quiet contemplation of the sky and tripping out, when you get a bunch of people who are knowledgeable about the stars together, the energy is great. Plus, Acadia.

And thanks WaywardPlane! Glad you broke out of lurking mode. Anyway, I'm definitely checking out Elite Dangerous. Also, Megaton Rainfall. Flying into space and leaving the big blue ball behind is exactly what I want to do.

Well, I have so much to do, so many places to go and experiences to experience. Thanks all!
posted by Transl3y at 6:35 PM on July 9, 2019

Also, haha, even if you left now at the speed of light, by 202019, you'd barely be out of the milky way.
You're right! In fact, who am I kidding? The farthest humans will ever go is the galaxies in our little cluster—and I can stay right on earth and see them. One of the things I always think about when I look at these galactic images is that we will NEVER know if there is life in them or if they're sterile or what. All the things we will never know about the universe simply maddens me.
posted by Transl3y at 7:00 PM on July 9, 2019

I'm burning with jealousy at my bad luck for being born north of the equator.

That's OK - we do allow visitors.

Something different to other suggestions, and this will depend on your circumstances and inclinations:

I can't remember where I saw this - it was years ago, but someone had covered an entire wall of a room with an image from space[*], it was quite unnerving, like if you stepped to close to the edge of the room you might fall out. For extra credit, put an image of your location on earth from high altitude on the floor.

[*] With a bit of careful thought, you could project a hi-res image onto a wall - maybe a portion of a larger image, that slowly scrolls in one direction to give a sensation of motion.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:31 PM on July 9, 2019

Now my goal is: a warm moonless night on a southern Australian beach with mushrooms and ocean swells. If you throw in some bioluminscent plankton, I could die happy.

Then I recommend you arrange to be at Wilsons Promontory in the summer.

At first I thought the bright blue footsteps behind me in the wet sand were just more special effects from better living through chemistry, but no.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Prom really can put on a show if you're lucky enough to be there when it feels like doing it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:19 PM on July 9, 2019

I really, really love this question.

I'm inspired.
posted by widdershins at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2019

Oh yeah, Elite Dangerous is great. It's as awesome of a model of the Milky Way as you can get for $20 (on the PS4 anyway). While most of the star systems are, by necessity (lack of data), randomly generated, pretty much everything that IS known is rendered as well as possible. This includes the HIPPARCOS satellite astrometric (star position and distance) data, Kepler (and other exoplanet) data, Hubble imagery, nebulas, etc, and IIRC, there are plans to update it with GAIA data on the position of over a billion stars. The closer you are to Sol, the better the simulation, of course.
An example: you can pick up missions at space stations...bounty hunts, trading missions, etc, with payment proportional to difficulty or distance away. So...kinda near earth there's a passenger transport mission to $random star B, which is really nearby, but the payment is millions of credits. So I took it. Warping from system to system is instantaneous (distance limited by warp drive/fuel tank size) and puts you right near the primary star (in this case $random star A) and then you travel around the system via impulse drive that goes up logarithmicly to like 10,000c (c=speed of light). Sometimes it's a single star, sometimes multiple. Sometimes companion stars are right there, sometimes further away. (Sometimes there are LOTS of companion stars, sometimes lots and lots). $random star B took 45 real-time minutes to get to at full (10,000c) speed. But hey, I got to chill out and listen to the groovy soundtrack, which was nice enough that I upgraded my ship with nothing but passenger compartments, went back with a huge group of colonists and got RICH! :D
posted by sexyrobot at 11:48 PM on July 15, 2019

« Older How is tea supposed to be made where you live?   |   How to stop being your own worst critic? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.