The Visualization of Astrophysical Data
Wednesday-Friday of last week we hosted a Visualization of Astrophysical Data workshop at KICP and Adler. I had hoped to blog each night, but I was spent after the long days. Anyway I've rested up this weekend and can start filling you in. The workshop went really well, all the feedback I've gotten has been glowing. We had an interesting mix of people: scientists, graphics people, programmers, museum people and educators (with most people fitting in at least 3 of those catagories).
Some of the highlights:
Andrew Hamilton from the University of Colorado showed off his Black Hole Flight Simulator - really cool. Everyone always asks what goes on inside a black hole, and now you can find out. When you fly through a charged black hole (we don't expect black holes to be charged, but charged black holes behave very much like rotating black holes - and we do expect black holes to be rotating) then after you pass through the event horizon you pass through a wormhole out a white hole and into another universe -wild stuff. As you fall into the black hole you pass through a point where light has piled up, and you can view the entire history of the universe in one blinding flash (Andrew put a cool shimmering visual effert here). Creating the simulator presented some serious viz challenges. OpenGL, DirextX, or whatever, all assume that we are in Euclidian space. To create the BHFS, Andrew has to do the general relativistic ray tracing at each time step. When he was at the Univerity of Chicago six months ago, the simulator kept crashing his laptop-- now he had this giant AlienWare laptop and it ran really smoothly.
Mark Whittle presented his work on Big Bang Acoustics. All the structure in the universe was started by sound waves in the aftermath of the Big Bang. Mark has transcribed those sounds up 50 octaves so that they are in the range of human hearing. Check out his site to hear them.
Curtis Wong from Microsoft gave an insightfull talk on the role of context and narrative. He has always been interested in doing a project on Astronomy, so hopefully the workshop gave him some ideas. One thing he showed which impressed everybody was the Leonardo da Vinci CDRom he worked on at Corbis. It is currently out of print, copies are going for more than $100 on eBay.
Frank Summers talked about Scientific Visualization using Hollywood tools. He told us how he used Maya and Shake to create an IMAX short for the Space Telescope Science Institute.
John Dubinski was inspired by our GeoWall demonstration and rendered out a version of his Milky Way Andromeda collision simulation in stereo. At the end of the day Thursday we hung out in Adler's 3D theater and watched it. John seemed really convinced about the value of watching the animations stereoscopically.
Chris Mihos showed some of his viz work on galaxy collisions. One thing that I really like, and we talked about adapting for Adler, is his Galaxy Crash applet. He also shared an anecdote where the viz led to new scienific understanding (the offset of gas and stars in interacting galaxies). We all decided that collecting these anecdotes is important since much of the scientific community still is not convinced of the value of visualization.
Well there were many more highlights, but I'll stop here for now. I'm helping with putting together the website for the workshop, and one thing I plan to include is a videocast with some of the clips that have been donated. I'll blog again when it's up.