Inspiration

The size of the universe is beyond the comprehension of humans, so Speck was developed to give a frame of reference to better understand just how large space truly is. The project is called Speck because it is meant to make one feel like just that: a speck of dust in comparison to the entirety of the universe.

What it does

Speck allows for a user to scale the distances of "near" objects in space to a point where it is easier to visualize. For example, one can fit the solar system between Los Angeles and New York City in order to find where each planet would lie if shrunk to fit in the USA.

How we built it

Speck heavily leverages Wolfram technologies to obtain information about the distances between the Earth and other celestial bodies. Wolfram also allows the user to select a human readable scaling factor, such as the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The Google Maps API is used to create the visualization as well as to find the coordinates of the user's reference points. The Speck server is built on Flask, and the front-end uses JavaScript.

Challenges we ran into

Finding a way to bridge between the Wolfram language and python proved to be difficult. Eventually, the data was saved to a file in a known format instead of being passed directly from program to program. Additionally, we had to figure out the Flask API since we did not have prior experience with it.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The Speck application is indeed capable of demonstrating the vastness of space. Multiple web services and technologies were combined to produce Speck, but the final product meshes together well. As a first foray into web development, the front-end could use work, but it is still straightforward and easy to use.

What we learned

Speck was our first exploration into web-app development. We learned how to use Flask to create a web-server that can respond to http requests. Additionally, we played around with JavaScript to create the webpage that communicates with the server. The Wolfram Cloud services also proved to be elegant to work with and provided the necessary information to power the project.

What's next for Speck

Overall the project was very successful. We would like to add ways for users to select more planets and stars to view at once, and the front-end needs more work since it is currently very primitive. The project would need to be hosted for actual users to view over the internet. Speck could prove to be a powerful educational tool to inspire students to develop new, innovative ways to explore the universe.

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