Over the course of six weeks, Ayush Parikh worked with a team of three other high school students, a graduate student, and a faculty leader on an astrophysics and computer science research project. The project involved the use of the Unity Game Engine to develop a data viewing and data modeling environment for the detection, analysis, and validation of planets around other stars. The detection of multiplanetary systems involves finding best fit values for five parameters (orbital period, mass, eccentricity, mean anomaly at epoch, and argument of periastron) for each planet in the system.
In addition, the orbits themselves exist in thee physical dimensions and can change over time. Thus, to help automate the process, Ayush designed a user interface to allow for seamless input of values to specify initial conditions for new planets. Ayush also made it possible for the user to save test data to a text file. To view how random objects could affect an existing system, Ayush designed a random asteroid generator. Lastly, he worked on buttons and menus to make it easy to navigate through the application. The Occulus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset can be used in the simulation tool to allow for a richer experience. The tool has potential applications to exoplanetary studies as well as astrophysics education.