The Physics Observatory (aka Physics Playroom 2.0)

The Cube team have been hard at work this year re-developing The Physics Playroom, one of The Cube’s first screen projects. This new iteration The Physics Observatory, is due to be released sometime in the next six months. In this series of blog posts The Cube’s Digital Interactive Designer, Simon Harrison, will share with us some of the teams’ learnings about physics.

When we decided to update this project to make it even more relevant to high school students, I stumbled upon some interesting facts and became fascinated by tales of physicists, great thinkers and even watchmakers of times gone by.

The original Physics Playroom featured an interesting rotating mechanical solar system. I discovered this device is called an orrery – a clockwork representation of the orbits of the planets that make our solar system. Using only cogs and gears it was possible to accurately simulate the motions of distant planetary bodies, incredibly this was achieved over 300 years ago!



The orrery from the original Physics Playroom

The first orrery was created by a pair of very talented watchmakers from London called George Graham and Thomas Tompion, It was presented to Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery in 1704.

Our orrery has been lovingly crafted using the latest in 3D simulation software and up to the minute data from NASA, however, it looks almost identical to an Orrery from the past. I bet George and Thomas would love to come to The Cube and have a play with ours!

PrtScr capture_3

The new orrery during construction

The new orrery features all the planets (including Pluto, we can’t let it go!) and a selection of planetary moons, all rotating around the sun. If the planets were to rotate at real-time speed, it would take 90,560 days for Pluto to make a single complete orbit, that is almost 250 years! So we have included a speed control to help accelerate and visualise the orbits.

As always we strive to lace our interactives with STEM related curriculum links and the orrery is no exception, our team of STEM teachers and researchers will be creating school workshops and programs linking the orrery to elements included in both the Science and Mathematics learning areas of the Australian National Curriculum. More details about school/holiday programs coming soon.

Unity Education (64bit) - renderScene.unity - PhysicsPlayroom - PC, Mac & Linux Standalone DX11_9

The final orrery in the observatory

And next time we’ll discuss how we managed gravity and how much an elephant may weigh on the surface of the Sun.