Scientifically Rendering the Known Universe for All to See


New video goes viral

December 18, 2009 New York City — In three days, over 150,000 people have viewed The Known Universe, a new film produced by the American Museum of Natural History that is part of the new exhibition Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City.

Click the Earth to see AMNH's new video, The Known Universe.

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is properly and accurately depicted because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas which is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History.

"I liken the Digital Universe to the invention of the globe," says Curator Rebecca Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the Museum. "When Mercator invented the globe, everyone wanted one. He had back orders for years. It gave everyone a new perspective on where they live in relation to others, and we hope that the Digital Universe does the same on a grander, cosmic scale."

The new film was produced by Michael Hoffman and directed by Carter Emmart. Brian Abbot manages and Ben R. Oppenheimer curates the Digital Universe Atlas. Rosamond Kinzler was executive producer. The exhibition at the Rubin, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, opened on December 11 and continues through May 10. It explores comparative cosmologies through images from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity, and presents early scientific theories of Copernicus and Galileo culminating with the film.

Digital Universe Atlas

Last year, more than 30,000 people downloaded the Hayden Planetarium's Digital Universe—a four-dimensional, scientifically accurate, free atlas of the known universe. With the accompanying viewing software, people can fly anywhere. This atlas is the basis of the Hayden's planetarium shows such as Journey to the Stars, which is currently showing, and of the Virtual Universe tours (see below).

"Some scientists think that visualizing is not necessary, but we want to communicate the fundamental questions that people have: where are we in the universe, what is the fate of the universe," says Brian Abbott, Manager of the Digital Universe for the last decade at the Hayden Planetarium. "This tool helps."

New data is continually gathered from researchers all over the world, and the ease of navigating the program will soon be simplified with a new version of the viewing software Uniview, which will also have the same level of photorealism shown in the film.

Virtual Universe Program

On the first Tuesday of every month, the Hayden Planetarium in New York City hosts a new virtual tour of the universe. For these programs, an astrophysicist projects the Digital Universe onto the planetarium's dome to "fly" viewers in real-time to other planets, explore our galaxy, and discuss dark matter or any number of topics that the Digital Universe Atlas can illustrate.


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