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Science Behind the Magic: Points of Light on Spaceship Earth

The Disney Imagination Campus team
by The Disney Imagination Campus team

Get ready to look up—and learn about the science behind the Points of Light on Spaceship Earth! Join Disney Imagineers, Joey Reynolds and Cole Rusin, as they unpack fundamental topics in science and mathematics, which together, help transform the signature symbol of EPCOT into an illuminated spectacle.

Imagineers, Joey and Cole, bridge the gap between classroom lessons and exhilarating Park experiences, transforming scientific and mathematical concepts into real-life wonders. The Points of Light on Spaceship Earth is a glittering example of this application of learning beyond the textbook. In fact, when those twinkling lights begin to dance across Spaceship Earth’s triangular panels, students and spectators are invited to ponder what principles are at play in creating such a luminous experience.

Within the study of physics, the electromagnetic spectrum helps us understand how energy travels and interacts with objects, while the visible light spectrum specifically reveals the range of colors our eyes can see:

1. The electromagnetic spectrum involves a range of energy waves, each with its own size called a wavelength. These waves do different things – for instance, radio waves, which have longer wavelengths, transmit music, while visible light, with shorter wavelengths, shows us a spectacular array of colors.

2. We can see those colors because of the way light moves. When light passes through things, like water droplets, it breaks into different colors, creating what scientists call the visible light spectrum. Each color has its own wavelength, and our eyes can pick up on these differences in energy.

The electromagnetic spectrum plays a fundamental role in the 2,000 individual, color-changing light fixtures situated on the surface of Spaceship Earth. The lighting installation uses LEDs (light-emitting diodes), that illuminate as electrical energy is converted into light, a scientific phenomenon known as electroluminescence. The colors that we enjoy as part of the nighttime spectacular are part of the visible light spectrum. As we look up at Spaceship Earth, our human eyes detect differences in wavelengths and energy as a difference in color.

"Using LEDs on Spaceship Earth, we harness the electromagnetic spectrum to transform electrical energy into a vivid display of colors, vividly demonstrating the visible light spectrum in an immersive, awe-inspiring experience." – Joey Reynolds

Next, our Imagineers fold in properties of geometry and algebra behind the scenes to put the show together:

1. Geometry is a branch of math that acts like a helpful tool, allowing us to explore and understand the shapes and sizes of things around us. It's the type of mathematics that we use to make sense of angles and all the interesting shapes that fill our everyday world.

2. Algebra is another distinct branch of math, serving as a detective tool to unravel mysteries involving unknowns. It's the mathematical approach we use to determine the values of variables.

With the Points of Light on Spaceship Earth, Imagineers use geometry to ensure images project flawlessly onto a curved surface. This technique, called pixel mapping, involves calculations of angles and understanding the properties of spheres. Geometry lessons are put to work to figure out how to make flat images look like they belong on a round surface. Algebra is tagged in with programming the timing of lights and music, solving for unknowns to ensure a perfectly synchronized spectacle. These mathematical operations and calculations are a key to Spaceship Earth's nightly transformation.

“All the swirling colors and intricate designs you see on Spaceship Earth are a combination of precise mathematics and the science of light, showcasing what you're learning in school in a spectacular, real-world display.” – Cole Rusin

The Points of Light are more than a show; they’re an educational experience highlighting the principles of science and mathematics in a dazzling nightly display.

If you're ready to explore learning in our theme park laboratories, check out the Science & Technology workshops at our East Campus in Walt Disney World Resort and our West Campus in Disneyland Resort. You can also  sign up for our e-newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things Disney Imagination Campus!

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