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Explanatory and Illustrative Visualization of Special and General Relativity
July/August 2006 (vol. 12 no. 4)
pp. 522-534

Abstract—This paper describes methods for explanatory and illustrative visualizations used to communicate aspects of Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, their geometric structure, and of the related fields of cosmology and astrophysics. Our illustrations target a general audience of laypersons interested in relativity. We discuss visualization strategies, motivated by physics education and the didactics of mathematics, and describe what kind of visualization methods have proven to be useful for different types of media, such as still images in popular science magazines, film contributions to TV shows, oral presentations, or interactive museum installations. Our primary approach is to adopt an egocentric point of view: The recipients of a visualization participate in a visually enriched thought experiment that allows them to experience or explore a relativistic scenario. In addition, we often combine egocentric visualizations with more abstract illustrations based on an outside view in order to provide several presentations of the same phenomenon. Although our visualization tools often build upon existing methods and implementations, the underlying techniques have been improved by several novel technical contributions like image-based special relativistic rendering on GPUs, special relativistic 4D ray tracing for accelerating scene objects, an extension of general relativistic ray tracing to manifolds described by multiple charts, GPU-based interactive visualization of gravitational light deflection, as well as planetary terrain rendering. The usefulness and effectiveness of our visualizations are demonstrated by reporting on experiences with, and feedback from, recipients of visualizations and collaborators.

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Index Terms:
Visualization, explanatory computer graphics, illustrative visualization, special relativity, general relativity, astrophysics, visualization of mathematics, terrain rendering.
Daniel Weiskopf, Marc Borchers, Thomas Ertl, Martin Falk, Oliver Fechtig, Regine Frank, Frank Grave, Andreas King, Ute Kraus, Thomas M?, Hans-Peter Nollert, Isabel Rica Mendez, Hanns Ruder, Tobias Schafhitzel, Sonja Sch?, Corvin Zahn, Michael Zatloukal, "Explanatory and Illustrative Visualization of Special and General Relativity," IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 522-534, July-Aug. 2006, doi:10.1109/TVCG.2006.69
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