Channel Surf the Universe with Fun-Filled “Astrophysics Variety Hour” From Caltech

Published on Apr 3, 2022

Pasadena-based California Institute of Technology Infrared, Processing and Analysis Center (Caltech-IPAC), along with other science institutes which are part of a collaboration called NASA’s Universe of Learning, has produced a series of educational videos called “Astrophysics Variety Hour” to help bring astronomical science to the general audience.

Hosted by actor Felicia Day, the video segments, filled with comedy, explains how astronomers can discover exoplanets around distant stars, map out the structures of these exoplanetary systems, and even characterize what the distant worlds may look like, said Tim Pyle, a multimedia producer at Caltech IPAC  and Co-Director of Astrophysics Variety Hour.

“She has a natural ability to move effortlessly from performing comedy to describing complex concepts in an informative and accessible way. Her infectious enthusiasm for the science is the glue that binds the whole video together so wonderfully,” Pyle said about host Felicia Day.

According to Pyle, the series includes a deep dive into the science of the “transit method” of exoplanet discovery, a technique astronomers use to discover planets outside of the solar system.

“It conveys all of this science in a fun, unique way. Comedy, quirky characters, animation, and music help keep things engaging,” Pyle said. “By combining this science with fun visuals and skits, I hoped to create a product that could potentially engage a wider audience.”

Aside from Day, The “Astrophysics Variety Hour” will also feature celebrities including singer-songwriter Rachel Bloom and actor Wil Wheaton.

Other celebrities appearing in the series include Andre Boyer, Lauren Lopez, Burl Moseley, Alyssa Preston, Joey Richter, and Clayton Snyder.

Meanwhile, the other science institutes which are part of NASA’s Universe of Learning aside from Caltech IPAC are Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, according to Gordon Squires, Director for the Caltech IPAC Communications and Education Team.

Squires said most of the production work for the series was done at Caltech IPAC. Aside from the science institutes mentioned, people from the science community and the education community outside of the collaboration also helped with the creation of the educational videos, according to Squires.

“I firmly believe the best way to share knowledge is by wrapping it in humor—that’s what I’ve done my whole career! So it was a dream job to work on this project, making exoplanet science fun and funny,” said Whitney Avalon an actor, writer, who performed and co-directed the Astrophysics Variety Hour.

The “Astrophysics Variety Hour” series can be viewed on the YouTube channel of Universe Unplugged.

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