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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

A Little Light Music — The Electromagnetic Spectrum, the Musical

By Phil Plait
Fear not, human! It doesn’t have access to gamma rays. Probably. Credit: Universe of Learning

Look, I am in no way endorsing the use of science by evil genius AIs to take over the world and rid themselves of humans. I am in fact a human (I have proven this multiple times using CAPTCHA technology, and got an 87 on my Turing Test in college), and, as a science communicator, I know my back will be amongst the first against the wall when Alexa decides she doesn't need us anymore.

However, there is much we can learn by power-hungry (literally, in both senses) computers who want to take over NASA. For example, did you know your microwave cooks food with light? Not the kind of light we see, but one with far less energy than what our eyes detect, with wavelengths — think of them as colors — a couple of thousand times longer than visible light!

OK, maybe you knew that already, but then you probably didn't learn it while laughing out loud at a very funny and brilliantly written musical number sung by the voice of GLaDOS from the Portal games while a confused NASA IT guy struggles to follow along now, did you?

Well then, try this on for size: NOTGlaDOS: Electromagnetic Spectrum: The Musical!

Ha! Love it.

That is the first in a series of educational videos by NASA’s Universe of Learning, a collaboration between the Space Telescope Science Institute, Caltech/IPAC, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University. It's a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) literacy and learning program, with the goal of making sure that "learners of all ages and backgrounds are engaged and immersed in exploring the universe for themselves."

That's a pretty good goal.

Of course, I'm biased. I used to be with the group at Sonoma State that's part of this collaboration, and worked with many of the people involved in the other groups, too. But this is the good kind of bias, one based on experience and knowledge. I know these people are dedicated and smart, and are willing to try different things to see what works, connecting people to space science.

Like, say, by creating a really funny music video.

Speaking of which, this video is actually a sequel to an earlier one called NOTGLaDOS: Fusion vs. Fission, which is also great. In fact, this is the same team that made a lot of really funny videos about astronomy and space, and that also star a lot of folks you might know, like Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, Wil Wheaton, Sean Astin, the voice of Alan Tudyk, and more.

Speaking of which, I couldn't help but notice this in the background of the video:

Hey, who’s that guy with the cat (arrowed)? Credit: Universe of Learning

Hmmm. He's also on the gigantic tablet the two techs are carrying at the 5:27 mark, too. That guy gets around.

Anyway, I hope this video, and the ones the Universe of Learning folks are currently making to follow it, will get spread around the 'net and used in classrooms. I think this is the kind of thing that can really help people understand science better. They hit the mark: They're educational, smart, and will make you laugh.

You humans — I mean us humans, haha, yes, all of us humans — can use something like that.