"Magnetism," Visualizations of the Earth's electromagnetic field from real data... for the NASA MMS Mission and Rice University's Space Institute


As part of an immersive fulldome planetarium show that will premier at the Houston Museum of Natural History's Burke Baker Planetarium and then be distributed to planetariums worldwide, Home Run Pictures created imagery visualizing the Earth's electromagnetic field. Data acquired from the NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, four spacecraft orbiting in formation to allow them to gather 3D data snapshots of the magnetic field surrrounding our planet.

Our Solar System's Sun also has a very strong magnetic field and the intertwining of the Sun's field with the planets, including our Earth, creates a massive electromagnetic system with the solar wind pushing at planetary fields and creating space weather. On the Sun, the magnetic field controls the various prominences and other solar atmospheric disturbances such as erruptions called coronal mass ejections or CME's.

When a CME strikes the Earth, our electromagnetic field responds protecting our planet's surface from the energy and radiation contained in the plasma. Home Run Pictures' animators took real data points acquired by NASA and created visualiztions showing the field responding by flexing and "reconnecting" when the field lines were broken... acting as a shield and protecting life on the surface from harm.

The Earth's molten iron core's rotation creates the electromagnetic field and is similar in structure to the classic bar magnets used in science classrooms when discussing magnetism. Other planets also have magnetic fields. Some like the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn have massive fields that dwarf our Earth's.

During the reconnection process, some energy travels down the polar field lines and as it strikes the polar regions, creates beautiful aurora formations. These formations can be seen from the surface in the higher latitudes and because of its orbit, astronauts in the International Space Station at times pass over the beautiful displays.


The Space Institute at Rice University through a NASA grant provided a portion of the funding to create the visualizations and were the contact point for the real data used, translating the massive amount of data into a form that Home Run Pictures' animators could import into visual effects software. Since the acquired points represented snapshots, the data had to be interperlated into curves usable by the rendering applications, a time comsuming process to generate the seconds of animated visuals the 4K x 4K imagery used by the video systems projecting on to the planetarium dome to create an immersive experience for the audience.

A short video of the finished sequences can be viewed by clicking here

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