Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Virtual Moon Atlas

This is a video animation I have created using Virtual Moon Atlas. For best experience, watch in full screen 1080p, buffer it until it is fully loaded (if you have slow internet connection) and make sure your computer volume is on.

Learning about the Moon is so easy and fun with Virtual Moon Atlas (VMA). You can download and install this free software at its official website. The textures add-ons found in the middle of the same download webpage are highly recommended.

I discovered VMA shortly after I started reading Starlight Nights. The timing could not have been better. The "Aha!" moment to create this Moon video came when I tried pressing and holding the step forward button in VMA's ephemeris tab. Moon's terminator (the line that separates the lit side and dark side) was moving across its surface. Five alphabets immediately flashes across my mind - FRAPS! This is a real-time video capturing software which I am familiar with due to my other favourite hobby - computer gaming.

My first attempt was just to leave the Moon libration option on (for more accurate representation) and capture a new moon to next new moon sequence with Moonlight Sonata as background music. The finished video looked a bit boring and Moon was "dancing" back and forth too quickly (due to libration) and thus visually distracting and out of sync with the slow tempo of the background music. Then, an idea hit me. What if I can create a Moon video that isn't just beautiful to looked at but could potential encourage the viewer to get hold of a telescope to look at it live? That's how the progressive zoom idea came about to simulate looking through the telescope at higher and higher magnification.

A few problems to solve before the video sequences could be captured. I wanted a high resolution full screen capture. But when you press ESC key to go into full screen mode, you cannot click on the time step forward button with your mouse. And there is no keyboard hotkey to do that. If you can't animate the sequence, FRAPS can't capture it as a video. Moreoever, even if you can animate the sequence in full screen mode, pressing F9 to activate the capture may disable the ability to continue to hold on to the step forward button via the mouse click.

If there is one thing my IT troubleshooting has taught me, it is to keep trying and never give up! Finally, I cracked the puzzle using my favourite tool - trial and error. I clicked and hold the step forward button, hit ESC key to go fullscreen. No go. Terminator was not moving. Tried a few times by varying the time delay before going full screen. Finally, SUCCESS!! It's moooovvvving! With a silent prayer, I hit the F9 video recording key and the frames-per-second counter turned red. It is recording!

So the success rate is about 1 in 6 tries which was good enough for me. Edited the video in Sony Vegas, uploaded it to YouTube and using YouTube Audioswap's feature to add Moonlight Sonata (the 5:31 minute version). Using Audioswap is the safest way to prevent YouTube from removing the audio due to potential copyright issues.

For those who are keen to do related videos, here are some more ideas. You can try picture-in-picture video to show phases of the moon from different viewpoints simultaneously, e.g. from north/south pole and the far side of the moon. Also try the "obit the moon" in Full Globe mode and play around with the different colorful overlays.

Since I enjoyed the writings of Mr Leslie Peltier and was inspired by the commitment of the authors of VMA,  Mr Christian Legrand and Mr Patrick Chevalley, the ending quote and credits was the most logically thing to add. Stay tuned for another Moon video in captured live through my telescope in a future blog. :)

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