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New game encourages children to explore strange new worlds

Aspiring young astronomers and budding interplanetary explorers are set to be given a unique opportunity to hunt for distant alien worlds far outside our own solar system, thanks to a cutting-edge, interactive online game.

There is an old adage that states that the best way to learn is to do so whilst having fun and there is another that suggests the best scientists are those that still possess the curiosity of a child. So what if you could harness the natural curiosity of a child through a game that encourages genuine scientific discovery?

The online game, Exoplanet Explorers, merges citizen science with immersive gameplay to encourage young people to engage in proper exoplanet research. It is the result of a collaboration between world-leading astrophysicists from the University of Exeter and an award-winning digital production studio, Fish in a Bottle, which was made possible through a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Nucleus grant and the support of a Future Leaders Fellowship.

Launched on October 4, for the start of World Space Week, Exoplanet Explorers immerses players in the world of exoplanet-hunting scientists by allowing them to employ in-game versions of the sort of genuine scientific methods used by real life astrophysicists. Through these techniques players piece together the location and structure of distant exoplanets.

The game's sense of realism is further enhanced through the use of the names and characteristics of real exoplanets. As players unlock the mysteries of the distant alien worlds, they are able to gain additional (albeit virtual) ’funding’ that will allow them to continue their research and allow them to make discoveries that will advance our real-world knowledge of exoplanets as they progress.

“This pioneering work to use cutting edge contemporary science to engage young people through the ‘Planet Royale’ game is a game changer,” said Neville Hollingworth, STFC’s Public Engagement manager. “It uses innovative techniques to inspire young minds to use real data to get involved in exoplanet research, it is novel, exciting and fully immersive,  transporting you to a galaxies far far away!”

Supported by a £105,000 STFC grant, the game, which can be used in classrooms, has been developed over the past two years with help of students aged between nine and 17 from three schools and colleges in Devon, alongside science communication experts from science centre We the Curious and visual effects partners at Engine House VFX.

The game is also accompanied by a new 360 degree animation, set in a potential future, that takes the viewer on a spectacular journey to explore far-away exoplanets, narrated by researchers and school children.

“This is a fantastic project that STFC have supported through its grant funded public engagement programme, co created and developed via a young persons advisory panel is a real game changer,” said Neville Hollingworth. “It inspires and involves all and has the potential to be used by millions of people across the world following the UK launch.”

The game and its associated visualisations will also be incorporated into an exhibit at the National Space Centre, Leicester, which is due to be completed in early 2022.

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Last updated: 20 October 2021


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