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The Adler Planetarium

June & July 2018

Public Viewing Hours:
Fridays 6–8pm
Saturdays 1–5pm
Sundays 1–5pm

The Adler Planetarium’s Space Visualization Group (SVG) turns real data about the Universe into stunning animated images. These images are built for projection in planetarium domes to help scientists and the public explore frontier research together. For the first time, these visualizations have been modified for contribution to a public work of art.

The first of two compilations is Planet Nine featuring the research of Dr. Michael Brown from Caltech. It tells the story of why he believes that our solar system contains a distant as of yet undiscovered large planet. The second compilation, Our Planetary Experiment, is based on a presentation of Dr. Daniel Schrag from Harvard, and tells the story of global climate change. Each piece consists of scientific visualizations initially created for the Kavli Fulldome Lecture Series—presentations which use a technology called domecasting to simulcast lectures to planetariums all around the world.

In 2016, Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin proposed the existence of Planet Nine, a new planet in our Solar System. This piece tells the story of Planet Nine in four movements. The first shows the discovery of the Kuiper Belt starting in 1992—2,000 new objects orbiting the Sun out beyond Neptune. The second movement shows the 11,000 year of Sedna, one of Michael Brown’s discoveries that provided early hints about the existence of Planet Nine. The third movement is a computational simulation of how a hypothetical Planet Nine would affect the Solar System over its 4.5 billion year history. The final movement presents several possible orbits for Planet Nine, a treasure map for the many astronomers hoping to find it.

Our Planetary Experiment begins by imagining that we could see atmospheric carbon dioxide glowing red in the atmosphere. Then we could watch the buildup of carbon dioxide since Charles David Keeling began monitoring it in 1958. We then use the 89 blades of the 150 Media Stream display to map out global temperatures over the last 89 years. Consequences of this warming include last year’s severe hurricane season as well as the catastrophic die-off that occurred in the Great Barrier Reef the past two seasons. Finally we show (at 1:1 scale) a projection of future sea level rise.

Interview with the Adler Planetarium

For those who are not familiar with your laboratory, could you talk about the projects that you do and the relationship you have with the Adler Planetarium?

Modern Astronomy is a data intensive science. In the Space Visualization Laboratory at the Adler, we work on ways of making that data visual. One of our signature programs is called Astronomy Conversations where local astronomers have informal conversations with the public utilizing the laboratory’s visualization displays to convey science concepts. We also create planetarium shows and presentations. One of the 150 Media Stream video pieces, Planet Nine, is based on a planetarium show currently playing at the Adler.

What are the challenges and aspects of utilizing scientific data and illustrations to create work for 150 Media Stream?

The display geometry made for an interesting challenge when trying to present representational content. The first thing that struck us was the impressive size and long aspect ratio of the display. That format was an excellent match to the various datasets involved in the Planet Nine story. The size of the display creates a sense of immersion, similar to what we have in the planetarium dome.

In Our Planetary Experiment, we went a step further and attempted to take advantage of the blade geometry as part of our data visualizations. The first idea was to have each blade represent a year and map out how the global temperature has changed over time. However, a straightforward mapping isn’t effective. The blades on the end are the shortest and thinnest, and we want to emphasize the dramatic warming that has occurred in recent years.

Our solution was to map the warmest years to the tallest blades, something that makes it obvious that our planet is warming. The large height of the display enabled another visualization; we were able to map out projections of sea level rise on a 1:1 scale. Standing next to that visualization provides a dramatic (and sobering) view of the changes our planet is likely to see.

The context of 150 Media Stream is very different than your museum theaters. What do you hope our audiences will see from the two projects?

In our planetarium theaters, we perform data visualization-driven storytelling. In many ways, that is also a good description of the content we have created for 150 Media Stream. The difference is that we cannot rely on narration to help tell the story and with the unique geometry of the 150 Media Stream display is a challenge for presenting representational content. Even though these pieces contain a story line, we do not expect the casual viewer to follow it. We do hope, however, that the aesthetics of the visual display of these datasets will capture the viewer in a way that will inspire them to find out more about what they have seen at the Adler.

Learn more about the Adler Planetarium here

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Judy Suh

150 Media Stream website:
design by the narrative: branding & design
photography by michael salisbury