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Visualize the seas ... and space

An animation by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio tracks global ocean currents.




Do science and art mix? They certainly do in a couple of computer-generated visualizations that show how Earth's oceans flow and how our universe grew up.


The "Perpetual Ocean" animation was created by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio, and tracks ocean surface currents around the world from June 2005 through December 2007. It was created using a high-resolution computer model that translates whatever satellite and ground-based readings are available into a global, full-ocean depiction of ocean and sea-ice circulation. The model is called ECCO2, which stands for Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II. ECCO2 is used for quantifying the role of the oceans in the global carbon cycle and for other scientific applications as well. Plus, it's just a darn cool video.

The funny thing is that the video was done almost a year ago. "This visualization was created as a last-minute entry for the SIGGRAPH 2011 computer animation festival; however, it was not accepted," the studio said in its database description. Despite that initial dose of rejection, "Perpetual Ocean" has gone on to become viral in the past week, probably because it has just been uploaded to NASA Goddard's popular Flickr site.

This year's deadline for SIGGRAPH 2012 submissions is April 9 — and I'm betting that, this time, NASA isn't waiting until the last minute.

Stanford University, meanwhile, has just put out a video that highlights visualizations created at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, or KIPAC.

Dramatic 3-D videos, created from actual data at SLAC's Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, show the origins of the universe.

Researchers at the Visualization Lab use supercomputers to produce computer simulations showing the birth of the first stars, the spread of the cosmic web, the blast of a supernova and other astrophysical wonders.

"Creating these animations is a real joy these days, because computers and software are so much more powerful today," Stanford physics professor Tom Abel, the head of KIPAC's computational physics department, said in a Stanford news release. "Not long ago, it took us weeks to produce a single animation. Now we can do one in an afternoon."

Take a look at KIPAC's image and photo gallery, and whenever you can, go full-screen with the video.

More science you can watch:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log's Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.