For my animation/mapping critique, I chose a super ambitious and terribly nerdy feature by the New York Times. They put together interactive 3-D (as much as it can be on a computer screen) models of Saturn’s moons comprised of Cassini satellite images. The page features seven tabs, one for each of Saturn’s moons, and when you click on one, the composite image of that body displays below.
From there, you can click and hold on the image of the selected moon and drag your mouse to rotate the image in any direction. Smattered across the surface of each are names assigned to major geographic features such as craters and mountains. Some of the “patches” of each moon are clearly lower quality than others, and that’s understandable. A video below the interactive animation explains the Cassini mission in greater detail.
Getting beyond my general joy at playing with the moons of a distant world, the animation is a fantastic way to highlight the advances of space exploration. While it takes time to process the data researchers are most interested in, features such as this bring that research to a larger audience in a way that’s more immediately accessible to non-experts and provides more timely gratification of innate human curiosity.
If I must criticize, I would say that it would be nice to have greater information attached to the named geographic features. While detailed analysis may not be immediately available (or, again, desirable to a lay audience), basic information such as relative elevation, depth, or square mileage may be interesting. Even better if they could include examples like “this crater takes up the space of 16 football fields” or “this mountain is as tall as 2.5 Everests.”
Otherwise, I like the simplicity of it. The navigation is simple and direct. There aren’t a bunch of attending pages to get lost in, nor excessive parallax scrolling, which I hate in general. It focuses on the most key and compelling element of this mission, the ability to see foreign astronomical bodies with our own eyes. There’s a reason everyone was so captivated by the new, detailed images of Pluto captured by New Horizons. Many people want to see the world, but many also want to see distant worlds.
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