Hubble's Universe Unfiltered

  • May 17, 2013

    The Power of APOD

    It is a maxim on Broadway that it takes decades of hard work to become an overnight sensation.

    Humor aside, the sentiment expressed is true enough in many fields. It takes years of training, preparation, and journeyman efforts to hone one's craft so that it is worthy of being discovered (although there is no guarantee it will be discovered). It has become popular to call this the "10,000 hour rule": only after about 10,000 hours of practice can you hope to become expert at anything.

    I don't know how many hours I've spent doing scientific visualizations, but I've been creating them in various forms for about 20 years. I like to think that my work on Hubble and some IMAX projects has granted me a slice of notoriety, albeit within the tiny, tiny field of astronomy visualizers. Then, along comes Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

    On Tuesday, May 14, 2013, APOD featured one of my visualizations. It is a galaxy collision piece I did for Hubble's 18th anniverssary back in 2008. The viz shows a computer simulation of galaxies colliding and compares that to five Hubble observations. The point is to naturally show how each Hubble image is but one snapshot in a collision process that lasts for a couple billion years. Over the past five years, this sci viz has become probably my best-known work, as numerous astronomers tell me they use  it in their classes and presentations. For APOD to feature it seems like old news.

    Thing is, APOD did not link to the version on HubbleSite, but instead to a posting I threw up on YouTube. After five years on YouTube, the video had gotten a respectable 28,000 views. Add one day of APOD-induced visits, and that number climbed to 176,000. After another day, it was up to 225,000 and was the #1 Science & Technology video on youtube. I confess to being flabbergasted at such attention to an "old" work. A bunch of astronomy friends, who surely had many chances to see this before, e-mailed me and my collaborators about our cool "new" visualization. It has been gratifying and bemusing at the same time.

    One take-away is the significant power of an APOD posting. We've know for a long time that Robert Nemiroff and colleagues posess significant power to sway the internet masses. Now I can give one measure to that power: 200,000 views on YouTube in two days. Wield it wisely, APOD.