Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Magnetic fields are invisible, at least usually. But scientists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory have made them visible as “animated photographs,” using sound-controlled CGI and 3D compositing. It makes the fields, as explained by the scientists, dance in an absolutely gorgeous movie called Magnetic Movie [1:17].

A reader, Ale, has provides commentary below that will provide more information.


  1. #1 Romeo Vitelli
    June 4, 2008

    Cool. Of course, you could always just use iron filings like we did in high school.

  2. #2 Ale
    June 4, 2008

    According to the comments in the originating site, this is just an artistic impression that has been superimposed on footage of a lab and a voiceover of a person describing some kind of field:

    “Actual VLF audio recordings control the evolution of the fields”.

    Seems to me that they used an audio processing algorithm to produce the images -like the ones that iTunes or Windoze media player uses. In short, I do not think this is scientifically accurate. It focuses too much on the image – how it looks, and not an what the person is saying, or the real field configurations being described.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    June 4, 2008

    thanks for the comment, ale.

  4. #4 Tophe
    June 4, 2008

    This video is no longer available. 🙁

  5. #5 David Harmon
    June 5, 2008

    Amen to Ale, these are definitely bogus. They show their magnetic field lines making loop-the-loops and random detours in midair. That sort of wandering may look familiar from images of, say, solar magnetic field, and indeed the narrator blathers about solar cycles and such.

    But those solar magnetic fields are embedded in plasma, where currents and gusts can drag field lines all over the place, even pinching off loops or tangles. In this clip, most of these “fields” are shown writhing through open air. In normal air, magnetic fields can still do some rather pretty things (try playing with iron filings on a plate), but they they don’t get half so “exuberant” as whatever they’re trying to show here.

  6. #6 themadlolscientist
    June 5, 2008

    @ Tophe: Try again. I watched it yesterday and again just now.

  7. #7 Jeff Knapp
    June 6, 2008

    I saw use of particle systems and procedural systems of some sort – perhaps as plug-ins of a 3D animation package. It did look “animated” rather than a visualization of some real data. It looks cool but, probably is not science.

    Here are some of the possible software packages one could have used to create this:
    3D animation – Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, Newteck Lightwave 3D, SoftImage, Cinema 4D
    3D match-moving – SynthEyes, pfTRack, Boujou, Matchmover Pro
    Composting – Adobe After Effects, Apple Shake, Nuke, Fusion, Combustion

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