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The Rainbow and the Stars

A Short Film About the Beauty of the Universe

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About the FilmWho and Why?

What are the stars made of? And how do we know?

 

The Rainbow and the Stars is a short film about astronomical spectroscopy and the beauty of the universe. It was written and produced by Jim Royal, a writer and photographer living in Montreal. This film is a labor of love: the product of a lifelong interest in astronomy, and a passion to explain it to the world.

 

The Rainbow and the Stars is about the science of spectroscopy. But it is also very much about our connection to the universe.

 

The patterns of coloured light generated by the chemical elements — called emission spectra and absorption spectra — represent one of those amazing and beautiful symmetries in nature. For the scientists mentioned in this film, all of whom lived during the 19th century, the reason for the colours in the rainbow remained a mystery. The colours and the patterns were just there. When Ångström’s realized in 1853 that the pattern of lines in emission and absorption spectra for any given element match each other perfectly, it must have been a profound and unsettling experince. Solving one problem only uncovered a deeper mystery. Why did the patterns match at all? Was it just a coincidence, or did this point to another hidden truth?

 

It wasn’t until the development of quantum mechanics in the 1930s that this phenomenon was fully understood. But in turn, modern physics has raised philosophical questions about the nature of reality that trouble and perplex people to this day.

 

The study of rainbows revealed a rabbit hole that goes down a long, long way.

 

The knowledge that we and the rest of the universe are made of the same kind of matter might be the most profound and awe-inspriring discovery in human history. To understand that we are related to the stars in a physical way is to be connected to the universe, and to each other.

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