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FREE Sneak Preview of Our Star Will Die Alone

There will be a free sneak preview of our La Jolla Playhouse Without Walls Festival show “Our Star Will Die Alone” on Thursday, October 3rd at 8pm, on the south patio of Galbraith Hall.  No guarantees, people.  Our main performances will be Friday & Saturday nights at 10:30pm; tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the La Jolla Playhouse webpage

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Early press for Our Star Will Die Alone


Project Planetaria’s upcoming performance “Our Star Will Die Alone” was featured in a recent article in the San Diego Reader by Chad Deal.  It spills the beans on the identity of one of the musicians for the “Death Metal Dying Star” portion: SD local rocker Bobby Bray, who’s played with The Locust and The Innerds.  Come see them tear our star apart!


Little Gold Star

The Sun’s mini-doppleganger on asphalt

The Sun’s mini-doppleganger on asphalt

I’ve gotten to thinking about scales of the Universe, which are so vast as to be unimaginable to our tiny little human bodies.  Consider our own home star, the Sun.  At a whopping 1.4 million kilometers across, the Great Golden Orb is just an average-sized star, an insignificant dwarf in comparison to super gas bags like VY Canis Majoris. And while that nice warm Sun hanging up in the sky might seem as close as we’d like it, it’s still 150 million kilometers away. By the way, this distance is called the Astronomical Unit, or AU, perhaps the least concise unit ever created.  With gas prices remaining high, the Sun won’t be a vacation destination for our family anytime soon.

In science, we have all sorts of tricks in dealing with big numbers.  One way is to use scientific notation.  For example, 1.4 million converts into the ambiguously pronounced 1.4 x 106 – is that thing in the middle a “times”, a “cross” or a “here be the gold matey, arrrrr”? We can also invent a new unit that’s really big, so that you don’t have to deal with as many of them.  For example, 6 million dollars might sound like a lot of money, but if it’s all in 1 million bills, it’s only 6 (“alas, noone seems to be able to break this million dollar bill”).

None of these options makes cosmic scales any more approachable.  So we can instead just take these big numbers and force them to be small, scaling our vast universe into something tangible, something we can hold in our hand. Something like a little gold sticky star (image above).

That’s right, welcome back to grade 2.  Did you do well on your spelling test?  Very good, here’s a Sun for you.  All one glorious inch of it. On asphalt (I happened to be at a bus stop when I thought of this post). You know, you’re the best student in class, but just don’t tell anyone else, ok?


Measuring distance

We humans can certainly contemplate one inch, so how does the rest of our cosmos scale in comparison?  All we need to do is apply a ratio of 1.4 million kilometers : 1 inch to all of our distances, and we can go to town. Here’s some examples:

Distance between the Sun and the Earth: 1 AU –> 107 inches, or about 9 feet. This seems like an appropriate amount of personal space between the Sun and the Earth, but with traffic going by I’m having a hard time making conversation. Perhaps it’s for the best.

Distance between the Sun and the edge of the Solar System: that’s about 100 AU, which converts to 900 feet – 1/6th of a mile – in gold star universe.  That’s roughly the distance from my house to the bus stop. I have to cross a train track to get to and from my bus stop, but I can professionally assert that there is no train running across the Solar System, so I think we’re safe.

Distance to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri: that’s about 4.3 light-years, where a light-year is the distance light travels in a year.  This works out to be a gargantuan number, about 10 trillion kilometers.  Light has the highest frequent flyer status on every airline.  Come to think about it, this is about the same number as our national debt.  Perhaps we should start measuring our debt in light-dollars?  I digress.  In any case, in our little gold star cosmos, the nearest star is 480 miles away.  Yup, that’s right, Proxima Centauri is in Stockton.  That’s a pretty long bus ride.  I hope we stop for lunch.

Distance to the other side of the Galaxy. Let’s take a real trip!  Only 100,000 light-years to go!  What’s that you say? Even in our mini-verse we’ll have to travel 3 million miles, which is to the Moon and back 5 times? Can I get upgraded?

So our little gold star-i-verse does bring some things down to a scale that’s at least contemplatible.  But perhaps we’ve gone too far, because our humble little planet Earth on this scale is only 0.01 inches across, about 0.2 mm – this is a grain of fine sand.  Not terribly impressive of a planet anymore.  The city of San Diego? 1/2 of a micrometer, about the size of a virus (let the metaphors commence).  And me?  I’m a whopping 30 picometers head to tail, about the size of a single atom.  Maybe that’s why my name is, in fact, Adam?

Even more weirdness persists if we think about how we move in our mini-cosmos.  Remember that light travels at the easily-remembered “speed of light”, which is about 300,000 kilometers every second.  If time doesn’t change in our new universe, that means that light travels a whopping 1/2 centimeter every second, or about a foot a minute. To go from our mini-Sun to the Earth (9 feet away remember), it would take a thrill-pumping 9 minutes to make it.  Wow, that would be an exciting video! [note to collaborators: do not give Adam a video camera].  In fact, in the real Universe, it really does take sunlight somewhere between 8 and 9 minutes to reach us here on Earth, giving the Universe plenty of time to edit out swear words and “wardrobe malfunctions”.

Which leads us to the illuminating revelation of this blog post: if you want to walk from San Diego to Stockton taking one step every minute, it would take you about 4.3 years to do it.

Best just to take the bus.

Photo credits: Adam Burgasser, Amelia Christensen 

Project Planetaria Project talk at Center for the Humanities: April 14th at 12pm

Adam, Tara and Michael reviewed the past 2 years of work by Project Planetaria at the UCSD Center for the Humanities, in a lunch talk on April 14th.  This included discussions of the Solar Variations and Our Star Will Die Alone installations, our TDDE 131 class, and how this collaboration stimulated new directions for all of us, and plans for future projects, such as Galaxy Gardens.

Using Stellar Evolution to Generate Music Score: Part 1


As part of our upcoming performance Our Star Will Die Alone, we wanted to generate a music score inspired by the actual evolution of a star as it evolves off of the main sequence – as it “dies” so to speak.  To generate this, we used an open source software package called MESA (Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics) developed by a team of astronomers and utilized by an extensive community of researchers, teachers and students to study how a star evolves with time (the code will be used in Adam’s undergraduate and graduate stellar astrophysics courses at UCSD this year).

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Project Planetaria in the LJP Without Walls Festival

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Project Planetaria will be presenting our new work, Our Star Will Die Alone, in two performances at the La Jolla Playhouse Without Walls Festival, October 4-5 at 10:30pm. The site-specific piece will explore what it means to live the life of a star through a participatory performance, integrating data-driven elements that our rooted in our scientific understanding of stellar astrophysics. Audience members will witness the birth of our star, explore its fusion through hand-held custom electronic devices (“Project Planetaria Devices”) and listen to its chaotic, post-main sequence death throes with a heavy metal score based on stellar evolutionary calculations. Through sound, light, projection, and a death metal band, this performance will articulate the productive and destructive aspects of our primary source of light and energy.

Tickets ($15) can be purchased at Festival website:

You can follow our creative process by clicking on the installation link in the menu above.

Using Stellar Evolution to Generate Music Score: Part 2

Here’s an excerpt of Michael Trigilio’s death metal score generated from the MESA stellar model data:


TDDE 131 Final Project Showcase

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We had a great turnout for our TDDE 131 Final Project Showcase; several dozen people came through to view (and interact with) the works the students created.  Here are brief summaries of all of the pieces:

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TDDE 131 Week 8: Project Planetaria Devices


6:10pm – 7:30pm: Project Planetaria Devices

ppdWe made Project Planetaria Devices!  Michael led students through the basic electronics, soldering skills and talked about the “stupidest possible chip. ” Working with capacitors, watch batteries, potentiometers, photo capacitors, and toggle switches students created their own devices to emit light and audio.  They “played” these interments by the whole class holding hands to run a current through the whole class, and performed a Cage-inspired score with individual PPDS.

Then everyone got a kit to take home to make more!


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TDDE 131 Week 7: Space, Time, Echo & Dimensionality

[Crit of Proposals and Pairing]
[Space, Time, Echo & Dimensionality]

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