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Cosmic Collisions

Narrated by Robert Redford

The new digital show Cosmic Collisions launches you on a thrilling trip through space and time to explore the astronomical impacts that drive the dynamic and continuing evolution of the universe. From subatomic particles to the largest galaxies, cosmic collisions are a universal force of nature. Both creative and destructive, dynamic and dazzling, collisions have resulted in many things we take for granted—the luminescent Moon, the Sun’s warmth and light, our changing seasons and waves washing up on a sandy shore. They’ve ended the age of dinosaurs and changed the very map of the cosmos, reforming galaxies and giving birth to new stars and new worlds. Cosmic Collisions gives you an unprecedented and extraordinary view of these events—both catastrophic and constructive—that have shaped our world and our universe. Narrated by Robert Redford.

 

  • Witness the birth of our Moon.
  • Learn how scientists could divert the path of an asteroid headed on a collision course with Earth.
  • See what will happen far in the future, when entire galaxies collide.

 


New Discoveries, the Latest Research and Stunning Observations From Space—

The Foundation of Cosmic Collisions

Cosmic Collisions presents a view of the cosmos that is radically different from our everyday experience watching the peaceful night sky. Collisions are commonplace occurrences in space and are currently understood by scientists as a key mechanism in the evolution of the universe. They are the spectacular and inevitable result of gravity pulling together objects such as planets, stars and galaxies, which are in constant motion through space. For the first time, Cosmic Collisions re-creates tremendous encounters that are usually invisible to us, either because they unfold over incredibly vast expanses of time and space, spanning billions of years and trillions of miles (as in the clash of galaxies), or because they occur almost instantaneously on a subatomic scale (as in the collision of protons in the heart of the Sun).

“Collisions, whether they are infinitesimal or massive, drive the evolution of cosmic objects in much the same way as natural selection or the collision of energetic particles with DNA drives the evolution of species,” says Michael M. Shara, curator of astrophysics in the Museum’s Division of Physical Sciences and curator of the Cosmic Collisions show.

Cosmic Collisions—A Look at a Massive Meteorite

Cosmic Collisions takes visitors back in time through the re-creation of a catastrophic event that changed the course of life on Earth. Using data from Los Alamos National Laboratory, viewers experience the most immersive simulation ever produced of an enormous meteorite impact that heated the Earth’s atmosphere in a flaming shroud and hastened the end of the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The ensuing destruction and darkness, combined with the subsequent volcanic eruptions and changing sea levels, obliterated almost three-quarters of all life on Earth. But the impact also cleared the way for mammals like humans to thrive.

But can such a catastrophic event like this happen again? The show visualizes a possible future scenario that has frequently been the subject of news stories, novels, and blockbuster movies—an apocalyptic impact of Earth with a large asteroid.

How the Show Was Made

A complex merger of cutting-edge astrophysics research and state-of-the-art supercomputing expertise makes it possible for Cosmic Collisions to transport audiences through time and space to view the evolving universe. To perform the enormously complex calculations and render the scenes of interstellar collisions, the show’s production team relied on an array of graphic workstations, a Linux-based rendering cluster with 100 processors to create the graphic images and used a multichannel digital dailies system donated by the NVIDIA corporation to preview the high-resolution graphic images on a planetarium dome screen. The show’s production team also made extensive use of a virtual map of billions of stars and galaxies called the Digital Universe, created at the American Museum of Natural History with support from NASA. It began as the most comprehensive scientifically accurate three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy and has grown to become a virtual universe, commensurate with available data, containing millions of objects in the near and distant universe.