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Visualization in the Einstein Year 2005: A Case Study on Explanatory and Illustrative Visualization of Relativity and Astrophysics

This web page contains additional material accompanying the IEEE Visualization 2005 paper "Visualization in the Einstein Year 2005: A Case Study on Explanatory and Illustrative Visualization of Relativity and Astrophysics".

Author: Daniel Weiskopf

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In this application paper, we report on over fifteen years of experience with relativistic and astrophysical visualization, which has been culminating in a substantial engagement for visualization in the Einstein Year 2005 - the 100th anniversary of Einstein's publications on special relativity, the photoelectric effect, and Brownian motion. This paper focuses on explanatory and illustrative visualizations used to communicate aspects of the difficult theories of special and general relativity, their geometric structure, and of the related fields of cosmology and astrophysics. We discuss visualization strategies, motivated by physics education and didactics of mathematics, and describe what kind of visualization methods have proven to be useful for different types of media, such as still images in popular-science magazines, film contributions to TV shows, oral presentations, or interactive museum installations. Although our visualization tools build upon existing methods and implementations, these techniques have been improved by several novel technical contributions like image-based special relativistic rendering on GPUs, an extension of general relativistic ray tracing to manifolds described by multiple charts, GPU-based interactive visualization of gravitational light deflection, as well as planetary terrain rendering. The usefulness and effectiveness of our visualizations are demonstrated by reporting on experiences with, and feedback from, recipients of visualizations and collaborators.


This video (MPEG Quicktime MOV) shows an animated flight over the Mars surface. For the terrain visualization the MOLA DEM dataset is used.


These videos depict the propagation of light in a coordinate-dependent way. Here, pseudo-Cartesian coordinates are used to show where a photon (i.e., a part of the wavefront) is situated after some time. To be more precise, there is an observer resting at the point of emission of the light pulse and the time dependance of the wavefront is given by the observers proper time. In these movies, e.g., we can comprehend that a photon needs an infinite amount of time to pass the black hole's horizon as there is a part of the wavefront coming smoothly to a halt just before it. The first video displays a wavefront propagating in the Schwarzschild spacetime of a non-rotating black hole. And in the second movie we can see the influence of rotation (Kerr spacetime of a rotating black hole). At the beginning of the film the wavefront evolves like in the first movie, but after some time the "dragging" influence of the rotating black hole becomes visible.

List of Publications, Talks, and References

External Links

Additional visualization activities of ours are documented on the following websites: