Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. – Carl Sagan
Happy Weekend. I want to share some of NASA cool data visualizations with you. The videos in this post are part of NASA’s sonification data visualization efforts. They are best listened to with headphones to enjoy the full effect. The supreme geeks at NASA take photos and electromagnetic energy data and turn them into sounds. In this way, they are trying to feed people’s imagination.
I have been a huge space nerd since childhood. Let me date myself a bit. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, I was camping in my best friend’s backyard. His dad called us in to watch Apollo 11 on TV. After witnessing one of the most astounding events in human history, we went outside and tried to see Apollo with our low powered binoculars. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t see the ship. Because we fell asleep that night beneath the Milky Way knowing something that no human had ever known before that day. Along with nearly a billion others, we knew what the surface of the moon actually looked like through human eyes. Back then, I used to stay up late with my dad and watch Star Trek in re-runs– just me and my dad. My sisters and brother weren’t interested. My war hero sailor father enjoyed how the crew worked together, the Navy military ranks, and what planets looked like from space. When he was working in the factory, some guy asked if he would take a ride on a NASA spaceship. Without hesitation, he said “Hell yeah”. I agreed. And I still would. We could visualize the trip in our minds. He taught me that.
When my dad was in high school, he sketched a jet airplane on his notebook. Since jets didn’t exist back then, I asked him about it. He still had the notebook. He said he visualized how a plane would look if it had rocket engines. A year later, he was an eighteen year old flight mechanic churning the air thousands of feet above the Pacific Ocean. As he put it, hours of boredom followed by a few minutes of absolute terror. As they hurtled along the edge of the troposphere, he saw every part of that plane in his mind’s eye. He said all his senses combined as if he became part of the plane. As a mechanic, my old man could visualize every part of an engine and could sense it’s condition. Being able to transcend our everyday senses is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. And it is that same visualization ability that stirs our souls when we look out over the horizon, or gaze up at the stars. We all are explorers. Exploration inspires the human mind to see beyond the senses.
You are living on a space ship. And that spaceship is rocking. The Earth rotates at about 460 meters a second or around one thousand miles an hour (measured at the equator). We are rotating a little slower here where I am (about 750 miles an hour). Our planet-ship is traveling around the sun at 66,000 miles an hour (about 106,000 km/hr). Our solar system is really hauling ass as it rotates around the galaxy at 220 kilometers a second, almost 500,000 miles an hour (around 800,000 km/hr). Strap yourself in, because our Milky Way Galaxy is screaming through the Universe at 2.1 million km/hr or 1.3 million miles an hour. Our planet-ship/solar system/galaxy/ moves in the direction of the constellations Leo and Virgo towards what is known as the Great Attractor.
The great thinker Buckminster Fuller used to teach little kids about the earth. Buckie would take the kids to the top of a nearby hill and teach them how fast the earth was turning. They would stand with their feet apart, hands outstretched, and Fuller would ask the kids, “Can you feel the earth rotating towards the east at hundreds of miles and hour?” All the kids would stop for a second and shout, “YEAH!” That is what all these visualizations do for me. As a space geek, my imagination devours NASA visualizations. Several years ago, it was my honor to have once been part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth environmental education project. I got to see some cool stuff and shake hands with some astronauts. One of them asked us if we would like to journey into space, and I answered enthusiastically” Hell yeah”, just like a kid and my old man. Take a journey in your mind.