Science goes public with a colourful look at the stars: Film project by Heidelberg astronomers released

"See the universe as astronomers do" - a project by astronomers and professional filmmakers, who had set out earlier this year to bring the most exciting recent discoveries about stars directly to the public, has now released the resulting film

September 28, 2015

Scientific conferences are market places of ideas, a key driver of scientific progress and innovation. But usually they are closed events, where scientists remain among themselves. Not so with the international scientific conference “Frontiers of Stellar Spectroscopy" organized by Heidelberg astronomers in early 2015. Here, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), Heidelberg University's Center for Astronomy (ZAH), the Collaborative Research Center SFB 881 "The Milky Way System" and Haus der Astronomie (HdA), along with the colleagues from the University of Cambridge, teamed up with professional filmmakers and students of Heidelberg University to produce a documentary film that brings the most exciting new discoveries about planets, stars, and the Milky Way directly to the public – and makes science accessible to everyone, out in the open.

The film tells about stars in the universe, their roles in the origin and development life, in hosting exo-planets, and in building up our own Galaxy. Project director Maria Bergemann (MPIA) explains: "In our films, we will explore some of the key questions of our existence. In the words of Carl Sagan, 'we are star stuff' – the chemicals that make up our bodies were produced in stars. If we want to understand our own origins, then we need to understand the chemistry of stars. Also, the central star is the key to the possibility of life in a distant solar system. Are habitable planets like the Earth ubiquitous, or are they a fluke? We can only answer that question if we know more about the stars within our galaxy."

The film is comprised of seven short episodes, which are available online (on YouTube and on Vimeo), and have also be released as a bi-lingual DVD in German and English, which will be distributed for free. Funding was provided by the Collaborative Research Center SFB 881 "The Milky Way" at Heidelberg University, the Max Planck Society and MPIA.

"We want people of all ages to watch the films. For our yougest audience, 6- to 10-year-olds, we also made two exciting cartoons to explain what a star is," says Bergemann.

A number of key questions on both stellar chemistry and life-friendly conditions in distant solar systems can only be answered today: they had to wait for the advent of today's giant 10 m Earth-based telescopes, sophisticated computer technology for simulations, and space missions such as the Gaia mission launched in late 2013. The films explores these new technologies as well as the human side of astronomical research.

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