One of the many varied things I get to do with my time is act as an advisor to the Oxford Sparks project. As part of our mission to inform the world about the wonderful science this place is involved in, we get to produce animations like this :
The eagle-eyed will have spotted that there’s a world in there familiar to Planet Hunters volunteers, as our slightly intrepid hero is whizzed past PH1. There’s another interesting link, I think, between the two projects; both planet hunters and the animation take us to the cutting (some would say bleeding edge) of science.
Pretty much everything in the animation is open to question (and you can read more background over on the main Sparks site) – we have only weak evidence that there was a fifth giant planet in the Solar System, and many question the portrayal of the sudden bombardment of the Moon as shown here – it’s difficult to tell whether the evidence we have points to a true sudden bombardment or the mere end of a longer period of increased impact probability. On the broader questions too, there is disagreement – what sort of world would really be suitable for life? Do Earth-like planets such as the one we end up with really exist out there? (Probably – but we’re not sure yet).
All of this is ok. My aim – our aim – was to present science with the ink still wet rather than wait for the final draft. After all, it’s most inspiring when we can still make discoveries, and hopefully the video will make people think – and maybe even make a few discoveries of their own on Planet Hunters.