We are flying over the surface of Mars, coming ever closer to the folded sand dunes. On the horizon, we can see a profile of mountains, and the sun is slowly sinking behind the highest. The length of the shadows increases, until darkness finally falls across the landscape of Mars.
“You are the first people ever to see this sight, the images are unique and are created as we watch. They are not artificial images calculated in a computer, but show reality as it is has been captured by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter”, Anders Ynnerman, professor of scientific visualisation and director of Visualization Center C, tells the audience.
They have been invited to the opening of the newly upgraded dome theatre in Norrköping. This is the first part of WISDOME, the Wallenberg Immersive Science Communication Dome, a project with a price tag of SEK 150 million intended to spread knowledge and interest in science and technology. It is financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Similar openings will follow in Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö and Umeå, enabling the material produced in Norrköping to be seen by many more people.
Collected by space probes
The images from the surface of Mars are created from data collected by space probes and stored on servers all over the world. The data seen at the opening are sent from the University of Utah directly to the six computers at Visualization Center C, which are compelled to run at top speed in order to render the beautiful images with the wealth of detail they contain.
Visualization center Photo credit Peter Holgersson AB“The resolution of the images is about 25 cm, which means that if there were people on Mars, we would be able to see them”, Anders Ynnerman explains.
We continue our journey towards the sun and see how clouds of hot plasma are thrown from its surface. On Earth, the magnetic field protects against most sun storms. But this protection is weaker at the poles, where particularly powerful sun storms can cause aircraft to lose radio contact with the ground and may cause problems with the electric power grid, although the experts at Svenska Kraftnät assure us that in Sweden we are well prepared to deal with this.
Mars, in contrast, does not have a magnetic field to protect it, just a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere. If people are to live on Mars, they will need buildings with effective protection, and must keep a close eye on the Martian weather.
Display window for research
Space exploration is just one example of the power of visualisation: one minute later we are on our way from the dome in Norrköping, via a coffee mug on the table, a salt crystal, and a microscopic organism deep into the tiniest building blocks of nature: quarks.
“Everything we can show here in the dome and the exhibitions is based on research. Visualization Center C is a display window for the research carried out at Linköping University, adapted for all ages”, says Anders Ynnerman.
Visualization center Photo credit Visualiseringscenter CIf you run a Google search for “researcher” or “research”, you get pictures of women and men in white lab coats, standing and sitting among at least an equal number of test-tubes. Anders Ynnerman knows that this is not going to attract young people to develop an interest in science and technology. At Visualization Center C, research is therefore presented as a voyage of discovery out into the universe, down into the human body, across to the smart cities of the future, or into buildings that have not yet been constructed.
“Visualisation enables us to present complex and puzzling concepts in an accessible manner that crosses barriers set up by language, culture and age,” says Anders Ynnerman.
Visualization Center C is unique. The WISDOME donation has made it possible to install six new projectors with the very latest in visualisation technology.
“We are the most advanced installation in the world at the moment”, says Anders Ynnerman.
Translated by George Farrants
The article is also published in LiU Magazine, issue two, 2019.