July 6, 2010

NASA Takes Earth Science To The Movies

As of July 2nd, movie theaters across the nation are offering something new in their lobbies. It's not a new popcorn topping or a bigger box of candy. Instead, theaters are serving up a little Earth science knowledge from NASA.

NASA has released two short videos that will play on television screens in almost 300 movie theater lobbies across 41 states. The videos, which will play throughout the month of July, emphasize that while NASA's well known for space exploration, it also studies our home planet.

"All of the climate impacts we see in this video are going to affect our future," said Brian Campbell, senior education specialist for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, Greenbelt, Md. "So we're serious about understanding about climate change but we wanted to explain what we're doing in a fun way that would be interesting to viewers."

Entitled "Know Your Earth," the first video shares a series of fascinating facts about how climate change affects oceans, land, the atmosphere, and ice sheets around the world. The three-minute video explains how NASA's Earth observing satellite fleet helps scientists gather accurate data to understand those changes. The animated video features a clip-art style astronaut who jumps in the ocean, flies in a helicopter, and generally gets up close and personal to the action.

To complement the video, NASA has also released a website that helps people boost their Earth science knowledge. The website features links to free downloadable versions of the "Know Your Earth" videos for use in classrooms, science centers, and by the general public. It also includes information on each of the satellite missions involved in the project and how each makes a significant scientific contribution in our understanding climate change.

The second video, called "NASA Reveals a Most Unusual Planet," runs 30 seconds and uses dramatic, high-tech space animations to show that NASA has uncovered the most unusual planet in the known universe. (Spoiler alert: you're there right now.)

The two videos will run about every half hour on National Cinemedia's Lobby Entertainment Network, which operates the plasma televisions strategically placed throughout the theater lobbies. NASA anticipates reaching over five million viewers through the network this summer.

While NASA research and imagery have been featured in blockbuster films throughout the years, NASA's role in creating video content for movie theaters is new. Campbell hatched the idea after noticing the lobby screens while going to see a movie. "I thought, wow, this would be a great venue to show real NASA climate change science in action," Campbell says.

But while "Know Your Earth's" trivia facts adhere to NASA's scientific accuracy standards, the agency took a cue from Hollywood with a little creative license. The astronaut in the animated video zips through the solar system with a jetpack that shoots flames. In space, however, the lack of oxygen means no flame could burn.

Was this an oversight?

"No, we talked about it and decided to go with it because it's just a cartoon, and it looked cool," said Campbell.

As with some of the summer's wildest blockbuster movies, sometimes the impossible is just more fun.

"Know Your Earth" was a collaborative project involving several NASA Earth-observing missions that was funded by the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.


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