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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Charlotte's Daydream

By Phil Plait
The title frame of “Charlotte’s Daydream”, a lovely animation about an astronomer visiting a black hole. Credit: Marlies van der Wel

What if, one day when you looked up, you found something that helped you look down and around, seeing your home world in a way you never had before?

Welcome to "Charlotte's Daydream."

Wasn't that lovely?

The animation is by Dutch animation director Marlies van der Wel, and the wonderful music by Pieter de Graaf. The music fits the animation so well; I love the minimalism, which still somehow gives us everything we need to tell the story.

But what is the story? Another beautiful thing about art like this is it gives you the frame and some color, but allows you to fill in the details.

The only description on the Vimeo page is, "An astronomer observes the universe from her observatory. When a black hole approaches, she jumps in and gets a glimpse of the earth from the universe."

But it's her daydream, so it's not real… but then, when you look at art, what’s real? What it represents to you is different than it does to me. There are touch points, though, overlaps; you may know what a black hole is, or what the Earth looks like from space. And even though I know a black hole doesn’t look like that, doesn’t act like that, as a metaphor I love it. She goes in and see new things, but also looks back home and sees far more of it than she could from the ground.

I wrote a short bit of minific with this theme, in fact.

I also like how the music goes from sparse when she's on Earth to suddenly more lush the moment her foot leaves the ground, the strings coming in to give the music a fuller feeling. As a classical music and movie soundtrack nerd my whole life, I love it when the music informs the story. And starting around 1:10, when she turns to see the Earth, the bare minimum movement of her facial expressions reveals surprise, wonder, awe. So much in so little.

The moment Charlotte leaves this earthly realm, and sees it for the first time. Credit: Marlies van der Wel

I know a lot of astronomers who have had this same daydream (in fact, I know one who made the calculations to see what it would actually be like to take Charlotte's trip). I can't speak for them, but I know I hadn't thought of it this way.

Now I will.

I'm curious: What do you see in this animation? If you were Charlotte, what would you see, looking back on Earth? Leave a comment below!

Tip o' the photon sphere to Jennifer Ouellette and Laughing Squid.