Few sights are as awe-inspiring as the star-filled night sky. But one experience that rivals the real thing is "Cosmic Collisions," a simulation that harnesses massive supercomputers to model how particles and even galaxies collide.
The show takes viewers on a ride through the cosmos, where they see (and feel, through the rumbling chairs) simulated cataclysmic collisions — asteroids with Earth, subatomic particles within our Sun, and even galaxies with each other — events that formed our moon, made life on Earth possible and will eventually spawn new stars.
We've become accustomed to virtually traveling through space, though, in sci-fi movies and games; some scenarios are more real-looking than others.
So just how realistic are the simulations in "Cosmic Collisions"?
They're as real as gigantic observational and theoretical data sets, cluster supercomputers at the museum and at two of our country's leading supercomputing centers, an array of graphics workstations, a Linux-based cluster with 100 processors for image rendering, and a multichannel digital dailies system (donated by Nvidia Corp.) can make them — and that's a lot of verisimilitude.
The production team for "Cosmic Collisions" started the process by mathematically describing and computationally modeling the events shown in the movie.
They then turned numerical simulations or data sets into graphic animations, called visualizations. These were rendered for viewing at highly detailed resolutions for display on the inside of the Hayden's 100-foot-diameter dome.
The team also used a virtual map of billions of stars and galaxies, called the Digital Universe, which was created at the AMNH with support from NASA.
The map began as a scientifically accurate 3D map of the Milky Way galaxy and has evolved into a virtual universe based on the most current and comprehensive data available; it contains millions of objects.
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, credits as inspiration the remarkable amount of new information scientists have been receiving from telescopes both on earth and in space.
"This data was itching to be visualized," he said. "Real data is informing the visualizations directly."
To produce this show, the AMNH worked in tandem with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, GOTO Inc. of Japan, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. The Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, along with CIT, provided support. It's narrated by actor Robert Redford.
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