Jun 7, 2010

Journey to the Stars

June 7, 2010: Kids love to make things explode in science class.

How about an entire star?

Thanks to NASA, supernovas will soon be going off in classrooms around the country—no safety glasses required. It's done via a DVD called . 

"We want every classroom in the country to have a copy," says Lika Guhathakurta of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington DC. "Kids of all ages from K through 12 will enjoy the show—and never look at the night sky the same way again."

Journey to the Stars (red giant)
A scene from Journey to the Stars. Our own sun at the end of its life swells to envelope the innermost planets. [more]

Journey to the Stars began as a planetarium show produced by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and supported by NASA's Heliophysics Division. It surveys the mind-boggling variety of stars that dot the cosmos—exploding stars, giant stars, dwarf stars, neutron stars, even our own star! A New York Times reviewer called it "easily the most beautiful planetarium show I have ever seen." Journey has been playing to packed houses at the Hayden Planetarium in New York since the summer of 2009 and, by popular demand, has now been copied to DVD.

The show is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. "There it goes!" she calls out as a supernova explodes on the screen. "Talk about star power." Her otherworldly voice propels the audience through time and space on a journey you soon forget is merely virtual. It is as immersive as a DVD can be.

Journey to the Stars (youtube video)
Click on the image to play a Youtube video about the true-life science of Journey to the Stars.

Best of all, the show is dead-on accurate. Visuals depict stars using real data from NASA spacecraft and the finest theoretical models modern science has to offer.

"This is a solid combination of science and art," says Ben Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the AMNH. "Scientists have been involved in the show from beginning to end, contributing to every step of the production process."

"We went out and identified which of our colleagues were doing the best work in areas we wanted to cover," recalls Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Curator and Chair of Astrophysics at the AMNH. "We asked, can you bring models and observations to the table that will allow us to tell the story using the most current understanding that we have?"

The response was stellar. "We have data from roughly 40 different scientific research groups around the world," says Oppenheimer. "In all, more than a hundred scientists pitched in to help."

Emmy-award winning author Louise A. Gikow penned the script, turning the techno-speak of so many scientists into lucid prose. Other leading writers have praised the work as a model of science communication. Indeed, some say, reading the script is almost as good as watching the show, but that's another story.

The DVD comes with a teachers guide and activities. 

To kick off the release of the DVD on June 7th, NASA is hosting more than three hundred VIPs from government, academia and educational institutions at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. They'll see the show on the dome at the Einstein Theatre and take home copies to their local schools.

Supporting materials that come with the DVD are every science teacher's dream. A teacher's guide offers tips for using the DVD as a classroom teaching tool. Activities for grade levels 3 through 12 are fun, innovative, and meet national science standards. It's all written in plain language, beautifully illustrated with scenes from the show and new data hot off the presses from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Science class is just the beginning, points out Guhathakurta. "We hope teachers will request copies for each of their students, so they can take them home and watch with their families. Also, each disk contains the show in multiple languages--English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Hindi, Chinese and others. So they come in handy in language class, too!"

The journey begins here.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information

Journey to the Stars -- home page at the American Museum of Natural History

Free DVD -- request free copies and supporting materials from NASA

The Science of Journey to the Stars -- researchers discuss the underlying science of the show