Dancing Cats and Interplanetary Ballet
Short Form Media Production When You Have No Time or Money.
Dr. James Hedberg
City College of New York
Dept. of Physics
Director of CCNY Planetarium
No more captive audiences
It's likely that nearly all the planetariums in the world had to close their doors last spring. We certainly did, and that meant no more captive audiences. Once you got people in the door for a planetarium event, then you had them. They had no choice but to look at the dome (or fall asleep maybe). But, for the last year, we haven't had that to count on. Now, we all have to compete with dancing cats and all the miracles of the internet video.
What are the rules of outreach & sci-comm?
Most are probably better described as guidelines
If we think about what guides our choices when producing content for science outreach - are their rules? Well, we've heard a number of things discussed so far in this conference, and I'd hesitate to put them on the level of rules. I agree with them and they are undoubtable helpful, but whose to say, maybe in 50 years the social psychologists will be saying that sci-comm should be boring and rude?
There is one rule however, the I do believe is at the level of a law.
Tell the Truth
I think it's fair to say that one thing we can all agree on as scientists is to Tell the Truth. The notion of 'trust in science' has come up a few times in the last few days and if we, as astronomers, can't solemnly swear to tell the truth, then how could we possible expect biologists or medical researchers to do that.
Of course there is an asterix on the word Truth, which we'll get to later.
Here's what sparked my passion for this in the last year.
You probably remember the Great Conjunction of 2020. Unfortunately, you also probably remember seeing this image. I'll call it the Flying Nu henceforth. This was far and away the most widely shared image of the great conjunction. Now, I don't want be negative here. But, this image is a lie. It appears to be a presentation of what would be visible to the observer over a few weeks last fall. There's a horizon, dates, even a technical looking measurement of the angular separation. So, a casual reader would see that image and say "oh, now I understand" the planets are crossing paths and might even bump into each other.
Yet, the only way for such a geometry to exist, in which the planet's path through the sky would cross like a V or X, would be if their orbits were heavily tilted out of the ecliptic plane. Which according to the current models of the solar system is not correct.
How to make a v or x shape
Another possibility is that the whole thing was just photoshopped. Here you can see how to take the real positions of the two gas giants night by night and turn it into a X shape.
Now, how big of a crime is this? Well, obviously no ones going to jail over it. And it did get people excited about the event, which was cool. But, it also prompted a number of copies and seemed to give license to just make up anything and say it's astronomy.
You can find a number of images that were clearly inspired by the flying Nu out there on the internet. This is the absolute worst though. This animation utterly destroys the hard work of centuries of astronomers who, in some cases, gave their lives, to trying to understand the true motions of the heavens.
So, if the science editor at the Atlantic is ok publishing this... well, hopefully you get the implications.
Truth telling tools
So, what tools do we have to help in our mission to tell the truth. Fortunately, plenty.
These are a few (free) options that can help you produce content for truth telling in astronomy out reach and communication. You probably know some already. I'm here to share my work on the last one listed: OpenSpace. It's a relatively new piece of software that has to some degree changed my life.
The OpenSpace Project
Open Source Astro Viz
True Scientific/Data Visualization
"But, can we see it from New York City?"
Look what our local government has given us!
The people demand a movement!
Our canvases are smaller than before, but more fun in some ways.
We can predict the future...
We can recreate impossible views of historic events...
Where do you want to take your spaceship?
This software does require a powerful computer.
It's still beta, so don't expect the maturity of MS Word...
The Hub: a community resource
There's a team of beautiful people working on this right now.
New release coming in June!