Smithsonian Launches “Journey through an Exploded Star” 3-D Interactive Experience

Visualizations Let Users Step Inside Astronomical Phenomena To Understand Human Connections to the Cosmos
April 30, 2019
News Release

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Reminants of supernova

"Journey through an Exploded Star" 3D Interactive Experience

The Smithsonian has made available a new online interactive that allows users to explore a three-dimensional (3-D) visualization of the remnants of a supernova, or exploded star.

Designed for use by both general audiences and high school science classrooms, the free materials are available at and include an interactive simulation, 360-degree video and multimedia instructional package.

The project was created by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

To create the visualizations, the project uses data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Mayall Telescope and the MIT/Michigan/Dartmouth Observatory’s Hiltner Telescope.

“Journey through an Exploded Star” features the data visualization work of Kimberly Arcand, visualization and emerging technology lead for Chandra, which is operated on behalf of NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

“All of that data has to be translated and processed in a way that humans can see, so it’s really important to be able to study our universe using different kinds of light,” Arcand said. “Each band of light gives you different information, so it’s like adding puzzle pieces to fit into the greater whole.”

 “Journey” offers three ways to explore content: 

  • An online interactive simulation in which users navigate the fiery remains of a supernova and manipulate the real data to make their own visualization of the cosmos. (Closed Captioned, works across desktop browsers and requires no software downloads.)
  • A 360-degree video tour, narrated by Arcand, explains how and why scientists study supernovas such as Cassiopeia A: to gain a comprehensive picture of these cosmic explosions. (Works on desktop, mobile and Google Cardboard devices.)
  • A high school classroom multimedia instructional package begins with the fundamentals of the electromagnetic spectrum and illustrates the production of elements from the explosions of stars. (Aligned to Next Generation Science Standards HS-ESS1-3 and HS-PS4.)

“Projects such as this one make science learning exciting and relevant for students,” said Stephanie L. Norby, the director of the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. “Using media tools, they can make a personal connection to topics that may initially seem esoteric to discover that there are forces that connect everyone to the stars.”

The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access makes all of this content freely available in its Smithsonian Learning Lab.

About the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

The Smithsonian established the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access in 1976 to serve public education by bringing Smithsonian collections and expertise into the nation’s classrooms. To understand the needs of teachers, students and museum educators, the center spent more than a decade in active experimentation and research, culminating in the launch of a new online platform—the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Since its launch in 2016, museum and classroom educators have used the lab’s tools to create thousands of new examples—ranging from experiments to models—for using Smithsonian resources for learning.

About the Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics

Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

About the Chandra X-ray Observatory

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

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