Carter Emmart

A Space Perspective

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Conversation Date: 02/09/2022

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 (openspaceproject.com), 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.


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