The Sciences

Wheel of stars

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJan 15, 2010 4:14 PM


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I sometimes ruminate over how to meld astronomy, computers, and preaching to the public. There are lots of ways to make astronomy interesting and accessible, and lots of people turning those possibilities into realities.

One of the most interesting and clever ways to do this has been done by Jim Bumgardner: he's created a piece of software that takes the positions of stars in the sky, maps them, and then has it make an ethereal musical tone whenever a star crosses the meridian (the imaginary line in the sky that connects due north, through the zenith, to due south). He calls it the Wheel of Stars, and it's really very soothing and wonderful. As he puts it:

As the stars cross zero and 180 degrees, indicated by the center line, the clock plays an individual note, or chime for each star. The pitch of the chime is based on the star's BV measurement (which roughly corresponds to color or temperature). The volume is based on the star's magnitude, or apparent brightness, and the stereo panning is based on the position on the screen (use headphones to hear it better).

I see this as being very useful in planetaria between shows, as a screen saver, or as a projector in a kid's room. Things like this make me smile. I like clever people; they make the world a far more interesting place.

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