New Milky Way Educational Video Debuts

Volume 16, Number 2, June 2000

By David Leisawitz and Ramona Kessel

A frame from The Milky Way's Invisible Light film.

The Milky Way's Invisible Light is a 28-minute film designed to show why the Milky Way appears as it does from the vantage point of the solar system and to explain howastrophysicists have arrived at their current understanding of its structure and composition. It is suitable for high school students, amateur astronomers, and the general public. Nearly all schools have video viewing capability, so the film is widely accessible.

Inspiration for the film came from NSSDC's Multiwavelength Milky Way poster that raised such questions in the minds of many non-astronomers as "Where are we in this picture?" and "How do we know what we know?" To answer these questions, the film uses a realistic three-dimensional model of the Milky Way (see and state-of-the-art animation techniques. The viewer is taken on a tour of the Milky Way that ends at the Sun's location from which the 3D model resembles the Galactic plane surveys depicted on the Multiwavelength Milky Way poster ( Like the poster the film shows surveys of the Galaxy that span the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to X-rays and explains to viewers how the various observations led to modern understanding of the Milky Way.

The animations were created by the SSDOO Scientific Visualization Lab. (SSDOO is NSSDC's host organization at the Goddard Space Flight Center.) The film features music by The Chromatics, an astronomical a cappella group well-known for its "AstroCappella" educational songs. The film was written and produced by SSDOO scientists Drs. David Leisawitz and Ramona Kessel with generous assistance from Drs. Padi Boyd, Beth A. Brown, Seth Digel, and Alan Smale and from science writer Michael Carlowicz.

The Milky Way's Invisible Light may be ordered from NSSDC for a modest fee to cover the cost of tape replication (VHS and PAL formats available) and shipping. The Web page at gives more information about the film, including the storyboard, and provides a link to the order form.

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Author: Miranda Beall
Curator: Natalie Barnes
Responsible Official: Dr. Joseph H. King, Code 633
Last Revised: 11 July 2000 [NAB]