Galactic encounters on the big screen.



In his office, Hernquist unrolls a poster that could be an ad for a new Star Trek movie. Above the words "Cosmic Voyage," two galaxies crash into each other in Technicolor. It's part of a simulation requiring over 1000 hours on a Cray supercomputer and including more than a million stars. The resulting one-minute video is so spectacular, it has become part of a new half-hour movie produced by the Smithsonian Institution for IMAX theaters, auditoriums in which giant screens immerse the viewer in light and sound.

"Cosmic Voyage" views the universe with a zoom lens aimed at everything from the largest known structures in the cosmos to sub-atomic particles.

"It's very nice," Hernquist says of the film. With clasped hands resting gently on his desk, this mild-mannered man speaks about his work quietly and in monotone. But when he speaks, people listen, says Johns Hopkins astronomer Chris Mihos, who collaborated with Hernquist on the Cosmic Voyage simulation. "He is one of the few people in astronomy who doesn't have to talk loudly to get his point across."


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