Parallax Simulation

An interactive simulation of the parallax effect—the concept astronomers use to calculate the distance to a star or other target object in space.



Launch Date

Spring 2017

Development Team

Dave Lasala, Creative Director
Rob Schwartzberg, Unity Programmer
Jiayan “Maggie” Li, UI Designer

Development Tools

Unity 3D (v5.3.4)


Using this simulation, students are able to manipulate the relevant distances in order to learn how they affect the relationships between the varying quantities. This tool simplifies the instruction of a difficult concept, thereby facilitating student understanding. Parallax was developed in collaboration with College of Arts & Science faculty member Allen Mincer for the course Quarks to Cosmos, as an improvement on a 2D McGraw Hill simulation. Our team improved the functionality and introduced the 3D viewport, including measurements of interest (e.g. alpha, the angle between a line from the center of the Sun to the target and a line from the Earth to the target), which allow for greater customization of the model’s parameters.


User controls include:

  • Orbit radius
  • Telescope magnification
  • Distance from target
  • Distance from background
  • Time pausing and beta angles.

Lessons Learned

Dave: The Parallax Simulation was intended to function as both a teaching tool for physics professor Allen Mincer and a study aid for his students. This was the first project that required us to have a complete understanding of the material in order to create the simulation. It also showed us how challenging the parallax effect can be to explain, reiterating the value of the project.