Carter Emmart, Ph.D. – A Space Perspective

In Making Waves Conversations by Mark Sylvester

A Space Perspective

Is space travel our salvation?  Perhaps, but just not in the ways we might have thought. 

The sky is a deeply rooted metaphor of the infinite, the untouchable celestial realm inhabited by gods. Those who traveled to the moon reacted genuinely in unscripted ways about where they went, what they traveled through, and how moved they were to see Earth in unexpected ways.

Today, spacecraft imagery, computer graphics, data visualization and gaming technology have enabled an accurate portrayal of the universe, both as we have charted it and how we simulate its behavior to our best understanding.  We now explore this authentic virtual space and become familiar with that rich celestial realm seeing back to the beginning of time. 

Compared to the size of our planet, the speed of light is blindingly fast, and astronomical distances are ridiculously vast; however, we can visually traverse the known universe by scaling our perspective exponentially, similar to how we use scientific notation in mathematics.  Showing what surrounds us gives us context to better understand our condition, origins, and possible futures.  By comparing our world to those around us, we realize how special life is, how long it’s been here and how briefly human thought has even had this perspective. 

Seeing Earth against cosmic scale exposes the absurdity of human difference, the invisibility of borders, the commonality of needs, all within a terrifying thinness of atmosphere.  We hold the power of the stars; yet lack the power over tribal divisions.

Carter Emmart

Ph.D., AMNH Director of Astrovisualization

Carter Emmart is the Director of Astrovisualization for the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium. He directs the production of its award-winning space shows and oversees the development of the NASA-supported open-source software called OpenSpace (, which visualizes an authentic 3D atlas of the known universe.  Before joining the museum in 1998, Carter, who previously worked at NASA Ames Research Center, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, got his bachelor’s degree in geophysics from the University of Colorado, where he was also an organizer and illustrator for the Case for Mars conference series.  He received his honorary Ph.D. from Sweden’s Linkoping University for directing their graduate interns at AMNH to bring the latest visualization research into planetarium domes.  In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Technical Achievement Award of the International Planetarium Society.  Carter grew up in a family of artists and started planetarium courses at the Hayden Planetarium at age ten in 1971.

More Resources

Upcoming Salon Conversations


Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, MD – The Long Road to Awareness: Breaking down barriers in long covid research

May 31, 2023 04:00 PM in Pacific Time
There is irrefutable data on the underpinnings of post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (aka Long COVID). However, despite the burgeoning research on the topic, it has taken some time for the medical community and the general public to recognize the existence and severity of Long Covid.
Speaker bio & Register for this talk

William Skinner – California doesn’t have a water problem – it has a storage and distribution deficiency.

Jun 14, 2023 04:00 PM in Pacific Time
In recent years, California has faced severe droughts that have further highlighted the inadequacy of its water infrastructure. As a result, many experts argue that California doesn’t have a water problem per se but rather a storage and distribution deficiency.
Speaker bio & Register for this talk

Nelly Ortiz – Hacking the Wealth Gap with Tech

Jun 28, 2023 04:00 PM in Pacific Time
In this conversation we’ll explore topics such as the impact of emerging technologies like the Metaverse, Blockchain, and AI on wealth creation, the role of startups in driving innovation, and how individuals from developing countries can creatively use technology to overcome financial barriers.
Speaker bio & Register for this talk

Ceah Justice – From Ally to Co-conspirator, becoming active in the fight for social change.

July 12, 2023 04:00 PM in Pacific Time
In a world of growing complex social problems— the ongoing pandemic, war, climate change, economic inequality, and rising populism—driving lasting positive social change in communities is on the minds of social innovators and racial justice leaders everywhere.
Speaker bio & Register for this talk

Jill Greenbaum: Drawing the Future: Visual Storytelling for End-of-Life Choices

Aug 23, 2023 04:00 PM in Pacific Time
Through her unique visual storytelling approach and compassionate guidance, Dr. Greenbaum invites individuals to engage in deep conversations about their hopes, fears, and wishes surrounding their own mortality.
Speaker bio & Register for this talk