“Cool” is a much abused word. Cool sometimes is an understatement.
When it comes to appreciating the power of visualizations, the former is true, and the latter is just as apt. Visualizations have one basic purpose – they help us fathom the unfathomable. When it comes to understanding the mysteries of outer space, visualizations help to give its vastness some scale we can understand easily. Data visualization is a well-practiced art (and science) now. Informational visualization is about communication and the newer web technologies are just the right vehicle for it.
When we have to talk about space and how it affects us, there are fewer better tools than the visual imagery of a well-done infographic or an interactive visualization. Here are seven of them to hook you on the science of space.
I wasn’t aware that one of the meteorites that landed in my own country (India) was classified as one of the largest in recent times. Meteorites aren’t as rare as we think them to be. This visualization shows them up to be regular occurrences around the world. The visualization documents 606 eye-witnessed meteorites landing on Earth over the past 100 years. The Earth globe shows all the spots where the meteorites landed, and you can filter the incidents according to the country.
BOLIDES is another visualization that looks into the history of this stellar event.
From close Earth, we head to the stellar neighborhood and make the leap with the help of the Chrome browser. 100,000 Stars is a Chrome experiment which takes you on an automated journey across the cosmos and 119,617 nearby stars. You can pan and zoom to explore the stars and read up the available information on them which has been sourced from space missions like the 1989 Hipparcos space astrometry mission.
Scientists are still trying to answer the question of the number of stars in the universe. That’s a tough one because there are more than 20 Billion in the Milky Way alone. Our Solar System itself is a small speck in this galaxy we inhabit. So, how big is our Solar System? This “infinitely scrollable” visualization gives you a sense of the space that’s all around us. It is drawn to scale, so you get a sense of the vastness of outer space and the limits it forces on us when it comes to exploring it. You can click on the names of the planets and let the browser scroll automatically to take you there though. Then, there’s a link you can click again for more information on the planet and what we are doing to understand it.
Time and space are intricately linked. ChronoZoom explores the relationship with an interactive timeline that ties together information from a diverse range of disciplines and presents it with articles, images, video and audio. The GitHub hosted project gives you a sense of the scale of time by taking you on a historical journey from the Big Bang to the Industrial Age. The timelines dissect all that has happened into five major time periods – Cosmos, Earth, Life, Human Pre-History, and Humanity. At the onset, go for the Guided Tour. Also, watch the video below that’s taken from the introductory guided tour.
The 3D Interactive Asteroid Space Visualization is not only neat to play around with, but it is a comprehensive visual database of over 600,000 asteroids. The information has been gleaned from many space surveys and is presented in a space map you can pan, tilt, and zoom. This information is also of future economic value because asteroid mining is a promised development. The visual map also ranks the asteroids according to their total economic value and reachability from Earth. This data will determine their ultimate profitability for mineral mining.
The Future [No Longer Available]
This visual representation is not only about the mysteries of deep space but how NASA plans to develop the technologies to unravel them in the foreseeable future. The NASA Space Technology Roadmap brings together concepts that the agency plans to use to venture into space. The portal takes you to many other multimedia resources which give you an idea of the development that is going on in the multidisciplinary science of space exploration.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory sub-site has probably the best collection of infographics on space exploration. Launched in 2012, the amazing gallery features visualizations that breakdown complex space data into visual bytes. The gallery is one of the finest examples of information design, and if you are a space buff, it’s worthy of a bookmark. You can also create and upload your own infographics with the Create wizard and the data resources that JPL puts at your disposal.
Even if you don’t go anywhere else, the NASA official website remains the best place to explore space in all its glory. You can even go 3D with cool space visualizations at the multimedia gallery. Space and astronomy fans can not only ogle at these informational nuggets but also contribute to space exploration in little ways. There’s enough to whet one’s appetite.
But what about cool space visualizations? Which are the best ones you have come across? Point us towards the visualizations which have given you an understanding of the magnificence of space.