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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Soliciting input for an idea on slides

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

05-11-2012 19:09 CST

Topics: mission status, explaining science

The image below is the single most popular one I've ever produced. It's a scale montage of ever asteroid and comet that had been visited by a spacecraft as of November 2010, right after Deep Impact's Hartley 2 flyby. It's been published in at least a dozen books, and has been spotted "in the wild" in countless presentations by asteroid and comet scientists. That's gratifying, because the reason I made it in the first place is because I was sick and tired of seeing crappy montages of asteroids in scientists' presentations, when I knew that the images could appear so much nicer.

All asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft as of August 2014, in color, albedo linearly scaled

Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. Ida, Dactyl, Braille, Annefrank, Gaspra, Borrelly: NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk. Steins: ESA / OSIRIS team. Eros: NASA / JHUAPL. Itokawa: ISAS / JAXA / Emily Lakdawalla. Mathilde: NASA / JHUAPL / Ted Stryk. Lutetia: ESA / OSIRIS team / Emily Lakdawalla. Halley: Russian Academy of Sciences / Ted Stryk. Tempel 1, Hartley 2: NASA / JPL / UMD. Wild 2: NASA / JPL.

All asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft as of August 2014, in color, albedo linearly scaled

The reason that I bring this up is because I have an idea brewing, but I want to ask for input first. It's my impression that we (meaning both the professional scientific community and the amateur enthusiast community -- space enthusiasts of all stripes) -- could do a better job of educating about and advocating for space exploration as an enterprise, rather than just one or two favorite missions. I know that professionals in particular are reticent to mention other missions besides the one they're working on. I realize that it's really hard to keep up with everything that's going on right now -- that's my full-time job! -- but it makes people sound like poor advocates if all they're advocating for is the project that pays their salaries.

I want to help. I've suggested to a few people the idea of me making a couple of slides or slide sets that give a snapshot of what's going on in space exploration of late, both recent and near-future activity, and there seemed to be interest. I'm thinking of a resource that I might update once a quarter or so, to keep it current without committing to a schedule that I'll find arduous. The slides would be free for public use, as long as they're attributed. But I'm not exactly sure how many slides would be useful in such a set. Just two? (what's going on now and what's going on soon)? Or maybe one for each world beyond Earth that's actively being explored? (That's seven, right now, if you include Voyager at the heliopause; eight if you include the Sun.) My slides would be mostly image with little text, plus some separate notes you could use for talking points.

I am also thinking about making some sets of slides designed to accomplish the same goal as the one above: to make professionals' presentations look less crappy. I was at an event last week where Charles Elachi, the director of JPL, had been asked to talk about Voyager. I'm sorry to say it, but the quality of the Voyager images included in his presentation was embarrassing. Voyager was so much better than he showed. I can -- and will -- do better than that! Stay tuned.

Anyway, feel free to comment or make requests below, or to email me at with requests or suggestions. I'll do what I can to help our community present itself better!

See other posts from November 2012


Or read more blog entries about: mission status, explaining science


Mike M: 11/05/2012 07:20 CST

Sounds like a great idea. I think some sort of timeline chart would be useful. Perhaps one slide for planetary missions, another for Earth studies, another for space based astronomy, maybe even manned missions, if you are so bold. Show launch date, key milestones, etc.

Jeff: 11/05/2012 07:56 CST

For me, I would think that the first categorization would be the physical location: sun, moon, individual planet+moons, asteroids as a whole, comets as a whole. Let's pick Mars as an example. For Mars, I would love to see the overall exploration summarized, perhaps as one trace per mission, either going and orbiting, or going and landing, or passing by and continuing outward. And finally, I would like to see those traces color-coded by decade, so it would leap out at me whether we are doing more and more exploration over time, or less and less. Also maybe a snapshot at different times of what spacecraft was located where - so maybe one as of 1980, one as of 2000, one as of right now, and one for the near future.

Jeff: 11/05/2012 07:58 CST

Note that in that final suggestion (snapshot at different times) I meant that it would show the whole solar system as of 1980, the whole solar system as of 2000, etc., so you could perhaps see where the focus has shifted over time.

Chris: 11/05/2012 08:18 CST

As a teacher, I would love to have these resources. For whatever reason (protecting turf, legalities, etc), many of the resources available from the "reputable" sources and publishers are out of date and/or not very good. Please take this idea and run with it!

Bob: 11/05/2012 08:59 CST

This is a great idea which is also needed. Asteroids as an example would be an easy start. A set of maybe 25 slides showing the different structural types (as in your previous blog). An Instructor Pamphlet with questions and answers along with a Student Pamphlet with questions would accompany the slides. These would make for great teaching aides. One set per subject and a slide or two showing each specific point covered. With this it would be easy to enter schools and do special presentations or assisting in public events outside of school. A publicity poster would also be nice as a backdrop with the TPS logo.

Ljubo: 11/06/2012 05:03 CST

There is a timeline of planetary exploration with links to at least some basic description of missions, that can be found at

soundofthunder: 11/06/2012 05:12 CST

It's funny, because I had this idea of using one of your monthly wrap-ups as a basis for a piece for my not-yet-7-years-old son. I was thinking of heavily simplifying one of the diagrams you use in those posts. Your question has made me think of that; in my opinion, the best option would be for one slide per world, perhaps two of there's lots of action going on, such as in Mars. I would certainly like to see that. I could then simplify and translate it into Spanish and have my Son use it. Conversely, adding more info to suit the audience needs or capacities should be easy.

Dave: 11/06/2012 06:03 CST

Yes, please! We are opening a community science center, based on a Girls Club, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan - with a planetarium. I am always looking for great images and your slides would be a great help.

Lorient: 11/06/2012 09:32 CST

It's a great idea, I really love your slides! I would add a slide about the Kepler mission at the end, including one of the visualisations of all the candidate exoplanets discovered by the mission (plus an image of the spacecraft and a short explanation of the transit method it uses to detect planets).

Robin: 11/06/2012 09:49 CST

For slides, choose a feature present on different worlds and show examples. Polar caps of the solar system. Volcanoes. Vortexes. Aurorae.

railmeat: 11/06/2012 10:33 CST

Emily, like the other commenters, I think this is a great idea. I encourage you to do it. There are a lot of great ideas here. People are coming up with a lot of work for you. Any that you decide to do will be good, but I would like to see you start with a montage, similar to you asteroid image and then make slides if you have time.

DarinRagozzine: 11/07/2012 11:59 CST

All- To some extent this has already been done: There are ~30 sets of slides here with recent discoveries, 3 slides each, in a useful format. If we're so lucky to have Emily involved, perhaps she could join forces with David Brain and Nick Schneider at UC Boulder.

nucsubvet: 11/07/2012 02:06 CST

Terrific idea Ms. Lakdawalla, Like most space nuts I have a large collection of my favorite space images. With your knowledge of planetary geology and skill at imaging; my suggestion is to show a few images of each planet with a short explanation of the geological processes that were involved in the formation of features. Maybe compare/contrast these to features on earth. I admire your enthusiasm and work ethic. It is easy for us to suggest things for you to do. Now we have to follow through and use them and do our own advocacy/education. Thanks again, and as an aside that picture of you in the Mars skirt at the last meeting was ... very charming. Gary

EduQuitete: 11/09/2012 09:14 CST

It´s a great iniative! As a geologist (and much earlier than that) I love all those pictures of planets, moons, asteroids, comets and all kind of exowords, but to reach a broader group of future sapce geeks I think it would be a good idea do have the the pictures of the spacecrafts too. It is important also to show something to remind the fleet of Earth satellites that makes our lives better.

Geoff: 11/09/2012 05:01 CST

Sounds like a great idea! It would be very helpful for us in small planetariums! In fact I've used (and credited) your comet/asteroid slide before. Our student and public visitors really appreciate the scale comparisons. Thanks for all your work! I point people to your blog often.

Emily: 11/09/2012 06:37 CST

Thanks everyone for your great ideas. Keep them coming. I'm seeing a few common threads. Those of you who haven't followed Darin Ragozzine's link, should. What I'm imagining is different from the DPS slide sets. But those slide sets are SUPER at concisely explaining the very latest in space science discoveries, the kind of stuff you won't find in a textbook because it's too new. They may be a bit technical for some people, but they're a great place to start.

Leila: 11/10/2012 11:43 CST

Great idea! I give 15-minute presentations at my daughter's school for "Astronomy Night" every year. (We have several activities and lots of people so the audience rotates to a new location about every 20 minutes.) I get elementary school age kids, older and younger siblings, and parents all together, so simple illustrations are good. Last year I did one on the history of lunar exploration and brought in LCROSS/LRO at the end. This year (December) I am planning to bring people up to date, obviously in a superficial and general way, on Mars missions. I was going to try to find or create a map of Mars showing which parts have been driven over by which missions. I like suggestions made by other posters here too.

Stephen: 11/14/2012 08:34 CST

As a computer nerd, i wondered if telescope diameters followed some sort of Moore's Law. I did the math to figure out what the doubling rate was from Galileo's 1.5 cm scope in 1609 to the 10 meter Keck in 1992. I didn't see how one could display such things in one web image. If galileo's scope diameter is one pixel, the Keck's diameter is 666 pixels. It's probably not as bad with focal length.

Steve: 11/20/2012 12:16 CST

For planetary size comparison visuals you might check out:

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