We turned off the lights and switched to the biggest monitor in the house, to get the full planetarium effect of this wonderful website. It’s called the Solar System Scope, and gives you a chance to observe space from within it, rather than dutifully studying it in a textbook or on a screen.
Clicking on the telescope icon to the left lets you toggle between three different perspectives: The heliocentric view, with the planets and stars spinning around you; the panoramic view, which replicates the feeling of watching the skies from the Greenwich observatory; and, since after all we are the center of the universe, the geocentric view, which puts the rest of the cosmos firmly in their place, orbiting the earth.
In a section called “What’s Next” the site’s creators (who are you, mystery designers?) tell us that they are working on a kid-friendly version of the site as well, but we’re not sure that’s even necessary. When we let a curious 8‑year-old try it out earlier today, it took us about an hour to get our computer back.
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.