Gaze up at the night sky, and what do you see? A flattened sphere, done up in lots of glowy specks that occasionally clump together to form the rough outline of a bear or a hunter’s knife. It’s easy to forget that you’re actually looking at a complex 3-D system, one that shifts constantly relative to you (hell, if you live in a city, like I do, it’s easy to forget stars exist at all).
A pair of interactive animations by developer and data-viz designer Santiago Ortiz offers a deeper, dynamic view of the stars. In one, Ortiz plotted stars along X, Y, and Z axes in a sphere to emulate how we visualize the sky, with the added perspective of distance. By rotating the sphere and zooming in with your mouse, you get a clear sense of how close stars are to your position at any moment in time. It’s like spinning a transparent globe of the constellations.
In the other, Ortiz mapped out stars’ absolute distance and magnitude to show where they really are in space. You can still zoom in and rotate the image, but it doesn’t resemble a globe anymore; it looks like a giant, chaotic particle cloud. Good luck finding Orion in there.
"Since I was a kid I wondered about the actual shape of constellations in the tridimensional space; it was something that I just wanted to see," Ortiz writes in an email. "The range of the distances is huge, and that size and bright[ness] of the stars is something completely apparent and dependent on our particular position in the galaxy."
Ortiz plans to design at least four additional views of the sky. "Each view is a thought, a simple representation exercise," he says. "I’m not trying to visualize astronomic data, what I’m doing here is playing with astronomic data in order to get insights on how we see the sky with our bare eyes and the maps we use."
[H/t Flowing Data]