Assistant Director, Hayden Planetarium
I focus on data visualization and cosmic cartography. My training in astrophysics allows me to interpret scientific research and distill the results into products and presentations that result in a greater public understanding of the universe.
I am committed to professional mentoring, and was a group leader and committee member in Women in Natural Sciences' (WINS) Mentoring Circles program.
I am also a active member, and was chair, of AMNH's Pride group, an employee resource group where we advocate for LGBTIA+ issues.
M.S. in Physics, University of Toledo
Thesis: Ionization and Mass-loss for Rapidly Rotating Near Main-sequence B Stars.
Research areas: Modified radiative transfer codes to explore the 3-D wind structure and composition in rapidly rotating stars.
Advisor: Jon Bjorkman
B.S. in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Villanova University
Research areas: Light-curve analysis and photometry of binary stars, spectral analysis of variable stars, and cataclysmic variable stars using the Villanova University Observatory, remote telescopes on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Advisors: Edward Guinan and Edward Sion
One of my main areas of focus is the Digital Universe atlas, a multidimensional atlas of the universe. I harvest data from scientists, curate the atlas for scientific accuracy, develop scientific stories and visualizations around the atlas, and distribute the Digital Universe to planetariums and the public. Data in the atlas provide a foundation for numerous outlets inside and outside AMNH, such as space shows, video series, live educational programming, and astrophysical research. The atlas is freely available in the AMNH-co-produced software OpenSpace.
The Known Universe - Transcript
The Known Universe
Developed by American Museum of Natural History
In partnership with Rubin Museum of Art
Developed by American Museum of Natural History
The Known Universe
This film shows the known universe as mapped through astronomical observations.
Every satellite, moon, planet, star and galaxy is represented to scale and in its correct, measured location according to the best scientific research to-date.
The data is maintained and curated by research astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History as the Digital Universe Atlas.
The Moon's orbit
Light travel time from Earth: 1 second
The orbits of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
Light travel time from Earth: 1 hour Our solar system...
Light travel time from Earth: 1 day
...and the zodiacal constellations
Light travel time from Earth: 1 year
The Sun's true brightness compared to other stars
Light travel time from Earth: 70 years
Extent of humanity's first radio signals
The Milky Way Galaxy Light travel time from Earth: 100,000 years
The galaxies nearby Light travel time from Earth: 1 million years
The galaxies we have mapped so far
Light travel time from Earth: 100 million years
The empty areas where we have yet to map
Light travel time from Earth: 5 billion years
Quasars, the farthest objects we can see
Light from a younger universe...the afterglow of the Big Bang
Light travel time from Earth: 13.7 billion years
Our cosmic horizon in space, and in time
And now back to the present
And back to our home
Cosmic View of Life
Cosmic View of Life is a new endeavor to create the first 3-D tree of life diagram based solely on DNA samples from the Barcode of Life Data System. Working with biologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland, data analysts, software engineers, and graduate students from University of Linköping in Sweden, and colleagues here at AMNH, we are mapping out DNA samples in three dimensions using OpenSpace. It may shed new understandings about how life is organized with respect to the species we know today.
Skylight Video Series
Skylight (on hiatus due to the pandemic) is a short-form video series designed to marry high-quality visuals with clear stories that communicate the science of the universe within the context of the night sky.
[Night sky with stars and Milky Way, some planets moving from right to left, some planets moving faster than others.]
From Earth, we see the Sun, Moon, and planets “wander” against a backdrop of stars…
[Labels show Mercury passing Saturn, Mars passing Jupiter. Mercury moves out of view.]
…tracing the plane of the solar system.
[Lines show the planets’ trails, close together in a horizontal strip across the field of view. In the background, a hazy band of the Milky Way is nearly vertical.]
How does the plane of the solar system relate to the orientation of the Milky Way Galaxy?
[Move away from Earth’s view, out of the plane of the solar system, rotating until solar system appears face-on, with planets’ orbits encircling the Sun. Gird aligned with orbit-trails appears, with circles extending out in the same plane as the solar system.]
We can compare them by extending the plane of the solar system…
[Grid continues marking the plane of solar system, extending as view zooms so that solar system shrinks in the distance, sun dims. Pass nearby stars, then distant stars.]
…thousands of light years…
[View is rotating to a more edge-on view of solar system’s extended grid. Glow of galaxy, then the structure of galaxy appears. Continue moving out beyond nearby stars to outside the plan of the galaxy.]
…outside the spiral arms of the galaxy.
[Once outside the galaxy, view rotates to edge-on galaxy, with solar-system’s grid slicing through it at a high angle, from upper right to lower left. Continues rotating to view solar system circles face-on. Yellow line appears, circling the Milk Way in the plane]
Over the next billion years, the Sun, with planets in tow, will circle the galaxy about four times.
[Solar system grid fades out. Zoom in towards beginning of line, Sun’s current position.]
If we viewed the Sun’s path among our night sky constellations, which direction would it be headed?
[Fade to view of stars as seen from Earth, facing constellations labeled: Cepheus the King, Cygnus the Swan, Lacerta, the Lizard.]
Our current heading points toward three northern constellations.
[Lines connect stars to outline the the three constellations. Images of the swan, king, and lizard fade, leaving only the lines. The sun’s path for the next billion years appears, stretching away between constellations’ lines. As view zooms away from solar system, lines stretch back towards Earth’s position in space.]
Among the stars, up, down, east, and west become meaningless.
[Zoom out among stars, panning around 360 degrees. The constellation lines deform as distance from solar system increases, pointing back towards the Sun’s position.]
As our spinning planet revolves around the Sun,
[As panning ends, zoom back in to constellations in night sky.]
we’re also speeding through the galaxy at 230 kilometers per second.
Hang on tight…
[Fade to black, credits begin to roll. Music fades.]
(Abridged. A complete list appears on my curriculum vitae.)
Faherty, J.; Abbott, B.; Alsegard, A.; Emmart, C.; Bock, A.; Axelsson, E.; Ynnerman, A.; Acinapura, M.; OpenSpace Project (2020). Visualizing a Billion Stars for Science and Education, Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 52, No. 1.
Gemma, M. E.; Roe, C.; Emmart, C.; Trakinski, V.; Smith, R. L.; Acinapura, M.; Abbott, B.; Ebel, D.S.; Kinzler, R. (2020). OpenSpace: Development Updates and Education Applications, 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
Brian Abbott (2019). Digital Universe Guide, AMNH.
Brian Abbott (2018). Digital Universe Atlas: The Grand Tour, AMNH.
Brian Abbott (2018). Partiview Quick Start Guide, AMNH.
Brian Abbott, Editor (2015). The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII: City of Stars, (San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific), Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, vol. 501.
Presenter for the planetarium's public programs for over twenty years, where I take audiences on a guided tour of the universe, explaining the science of the cosmos while immersed in our 3-D atlas of the planets, stars, and galaxies.
Professional Development & Training
Developed and run the training of all presenters for public programs in the planetarium involving the Digital Universe. Focused on software and speak for an audience in the theater.
Developed and taught several courses involving exploring the universe in the planetarium. Envisioning the Virtual Universe was a popular, six-week course highlighting how to use the Digital Universe atlas, some principles of data visualization, and astrophysics. Digital Universe Flight School was a six-week course where students learn the Digital Universe atlas and the planetarium software to author their own mini planetarium show, which they present to a public audience.
Advisor & Mentor
Serves as an advisor or mentor for science and non-science students since 2001 at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level.