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It’s the kind of job kids fantasise about and adults envy.

Carter Emmart uses astronomy and computational modelling to create scientifically accurate, three-dimensional tours of the universe.

For the last 12 years Carter – who is Director of Astrovisualisation at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) – has been working with scientists, artists and programmers to build a complete 3D visualisation of our known universe. He has also, in the last decade, directed four pathbreaking shows at the museum: Passport to the Universe; The Search for Life: Are We Alone?; Cosmic Collisions and Journey to the Stars.

The Digital Atlas project, though, is his most ambitious yet – not only in the technology it has created but in its ambition to help create a whole new understanding about our place in the larger cosmic scheme of things.

The project, funded by NASA, contains the 3-dimensional locations of every plotted star, all non-stellar objects in the galaxy and all the known galaxies out to the boundaries of the cosmic back-ground radiation. “As we move out, the light from these distant galaxies has taken so long, we’re essentially backing up into the past,” explains Carter. In addition the atlas also contains NASA mission and satellite tracking.

Carter – who at age 10 was already taking astronomy courses in the old Hayden Planetarium at the AMNH – has always felt compelled to share an understanding of our place in the universe with a wider audience. “It wasn’t until we really left Earth, got above the atmosphere and had seen the horizon bend back on itself, that we could understand our planet as a limited condition,” he points out.

As a child born into a family of artists, he naturally combined his love of science with his tendency for visualisation. He acquired a BA from the University of Colorado, and went on to work in architectural modelling but soon moved on to do scientific visualisation for NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, before joining the AMNH.

Today Dr Emmart – in 2006, he received an honorary Ph.D. from Linkoping University in Sweden – directs the groundbreaking shows and immersive space experiences at the same Hayden Planetarium where his interest in astronomy was first sparked. Perhaps that’s the trigger for his passion in sharing for free the technology he has helped painstakingly develop over a decade – especially with those not fortunate enough to have access to institutions like the AMNH. He’s collaborating actively to create a future where planetariums, science centers and classrooms are networked together to display this incredible cosmic learning tool to adults and children across the globe.

It’s already happening.

“We’re actually sharing tours of the universe with the first sub-Saharan planetarium in Ghana, as well as new libraries that have been built in the ghettos in Columbia and a high school in Cambodia. And the Cambodians have actually controlled the Hayden Planetarium from their high school,” he enthuses.

What’s clear is that in James Bond style, for Carter Emmart, the world truly is not enough!

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