Press Release

NASA’s 3D Guide to the Galaxy lets you interactively explore the Milky Way galaxy on the Web

By SpaceRef Editor
July 23, 2006
Filed under , ,
NASA’s 3D Guide to the Galaxy lets you interactively explore the Milky Way galaxy on the Web

Using “plug in free” X3D technology in Demicron’s WireFusion, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s PlanetQuest web site is providing visitors with a unique opportunity to interactively explore the Milky Way galaxy. Product Visualization Services worked with NASA to create a platform-independent interactive 3D visualization and multimedia “3D Guide to the Galaxy” that can be navigated in real-time over the Web.

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is.” Mind-bogglingly big is exactly what makes the Milky Way so very difficult to visualize using photographic means or even using the traditional “artist’s conception” painting. The goal of the “3D Guide to the Galaxy” project was therefore to use immersive 3D visualization to help users understand the primary features of the Milky Way, and to grasp the massive scale of the galaxy relative to our own tiny earth. As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, NASA wanted the interactive 3D multimedia content to be web-based and to be accessible using any modern web browser on any platform.

Product Visualization Services (PVS) chose the X3D file format standard and WireFusion’s Java/X3D-based media authoring and playback solution to create the “3D Guide to the Galaxy”. X3D is an open standard for real-time 3D visualization on the Web and networks. WireFusion combines X3D with Java to integrate 3D, 2D, video, audio and Flash into interactive presentations for use on the Web without the need for any plug-ins or special downloads.

“We have worked with many different Web 3D playback solutions, said PVS create director Patrick Belford. “Too often the plug-in technology gets in the way of the visitor’s natural curiosity. Nothing is more disruptive to a web experience than seeing a warning message like ‘this content requires that you download and install plug-in XYZ’ or ‘a newer version of Software XYZ must be installed to display this content. Please update your installation.’ Visitors simply abandon the presentation and move on. We wanted to find a solution where the mechanics of the technology would be invisible and everything would just work quickly and without hassle.”

WireFusion is written in the Java programming language so both the application and player are platform independent. When visitors arrive at a web site with content created using WireFusion, there is no plug-in required. The presentations load automatically and are viewable by virtually anyone with internet access, on any platform (Mac OS, Window, Linux, etc.) This allowed PVS to meet NASA’s stringent accessibility requirements. Streaming capability allowed both 2D and 3D content to be delivered on-the-fly, dramatically increasing the amount of content that could be delivered to the end-user in real time. Within a few second of arriving to the web site, the visitor can begin exploring.

The core of the Milky Way guide is a 3D model that provides the context for all of the content in the presentation. The model was created based on data and conceptual imagery provided by the JPL and exported as X3D. PVS took full advantage of X3D’s multiple texture layers to create a Milky Way that was both photo-realistically compelling, and easily navigable. The model was then imported into WireFusion’s drag-and-drop authoring environment, to add photographic imagery, audio, text and graphics, as well as a user interface and full interactivity. WireFusion’s underlying scene graph uses representations of the X3D nodes and fields so it takes advantage of many of X3D’s capabilities.

WireFusion’s content layering approach allowed supporting media to be displayed in-frame with the base 3D model. This allowed PVS to put smaller-scale data in context relative to the galaxy as a whole, without requiring the user to switch focus between 2D and 3D views. Camera interpolation made it possible to quickly jump to pre-defined vantage points to effectively illustrate the presentation’s key messages.

The combination of X3D and WireFusion is helping to give visitors a view of the Milky Way that not only educates, but also entertains.

About Demicron AB
Demicron develops easy-to-use and high quality Java software solutions for Web graphics. Founded in 1996, Demicron is a leading developer of advanced product simulation tools for the Web. Demicron distributes its products including WireFusion to more than 40 countries around the world, with customers including Motorola, Sony, AT&T, NASA, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Casio, Epson, OMEGA, Swatch, Bang&Olufsen, Mitsubishi and Matsushita Electric Works. The company is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. More information at:

About Product Visualization Services
Founded in 2003, Product Visualization Services is a boutique studio specializing in both online and offline visualization solutions. P.V. Services is lead by Patrick Belford, a ten-year veteran of the web3D field. Patrick Belford has produced web3D content for fortune 500 clients across the globe. P.V. Services has created numerous web3D projects for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, as well as contributing Real-Time content to Canada’s 2005 World’s Fair project “Virtual Canada”. More information at:

About the Web3D Consortium:
The Web3D Consortium is a member-funded industry consortium committed to the creation and deployment of open, royalty-free standards that enable the communication of real-time 3D across applications, networks, and XML web services. The Consortium works closely with the ISO, MPEG and W3C standardization bodies to maximize market opportunities for its membership. All Consortium members are empowered to participate and vote in Consortium working groups and are able to accelerate the delivery of their cutting-edge 3D platforms and applications through access to specification drafts and conformance tests before public deployment. More information on the Consortium and Consortium membership is available at

SpaceRef staff editor.