The 1928 Atlanta project has one essential question that we are trying to answer: How has the city changed since 1928? WHAT has changed since 1928? Well, it seems like almost everything has. The exceptions might be the few select buildings that still stand today from that time (which have still gotten makeovers and renovations). One constant may be the street layouts, especially in the historical areas like the Flat Iron Building intersection. The dimensions of the roads may be different, but one can see in the pictures that the overall blueprint is similar.

1921 atlanta flat iron now flat iron

In a progressive, ever-growing city like Atlanta, 87 years is a LOT of time. In that 87 years, technology and the availability of resources (both human and capital) have granted us a city that is famous worldwide for a list of things. While researching all the buildings from that time, one nagging question was in the back of my mind. Perhaps it is because Astronomy is my passion and one of the things I came to Georgia State to study. While all this has gone on the ground, what has been happening in the sky? How has our place in the universe changed? This is something that is as important as answering the question of “How has the buildings changed?” because I really believe that what the Student Innovation Fellowship is doing with the 1928 project is extraordinary in that we CAN answer these questions while staying in the scope of the project. I now see this project not of just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), but of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math). If one was so inclined, he or she could name our four programmers (Megan, Priyanka, Shakib, and Wasfi) artists as well as scientists.

Let’s start with some changes that have occurred on a big scale with our home, the Earth. How has the Earth changed since 1928? In those 87 years, the Earth has traveled just about 54,872,640,000 km. That’s some impressive mileage for just 87 years. We are moving at a speed of 20 km/s (or 72,000 km/hr), but of course we don’t notice it.

Something else has changed in that time, and it is the air and light pollution. When you are in Atlanta on a clear night, it is actually not so clear. Looking up at the sky doesn’t give you instant gratification. You need to REALLY look up to finally see some stars. Back then though, you did not have to be too far out of the city to see nature’s light show. Pollution was not as wide-spread, and the artificial lights were not as numerous either. Actually, during the 1990s there was a massive power outage in southern California. It took a while for the lights to come back on, but during the period of darkness, people starting reporting these weird, glowing clouds above them. Most likely, they thought it was a UFO of some sort or some odd structure. What they were looking at was the Milky Way. Isn’t that something? All these people had never seen the Milky Way because the light pollution was too much for the glow of the stars to get through. From Georgia, you cannot really see the Milky Way as it was in southern California during that time, but it still makes you wonder how many people would react the same way in our city in 2015.

Our moon, an old ally of the Earth (Just look up how many asteroids have been “dodged” because of the Moon’s gravitational force. The moon is an unsung hero if you ask me.), has also changed in those 87 years. Every year, the moon moves 3.78 cm away from us. Here is how without getting too technical: The moon rotates completely in 27.3 hours while the Earth does this in 24 hours. Therefore, the Moon rotates slower than the Earth. This is important. The Earth and moon both exert a gravitational force on each other. The moon raises the tides on Earth, and Earth pulls on the moon (almost like it is trying to rotate the moon faster). The tidal bulges created on earth make friction (aka energy) that leaves the earth system and goes to the moon. This added energy to the moon system is what is pushing the orbit away from earth.

Since we are talking about the moon, what about the phases? How do the moon phases of 2015 and 1928 compare? Let us look at this chart below. As you can see, there has not been much change.

Please click the images for better resolution.

1928 moon phases2015 moon phases

The first full moon of each year are only three days apart (in their respective year). The first new moons are only two days apart. This may be surprising to some given that 87 years have passed, but how long is that really? Well, let’s put it into perspective. The universe is 13,820,000,000 (13.82 billion) years old. Now let’s scale those 13.82 billion years to just one of our calendar years, meaning 365 days. This means that January 1st is the VERY beginning of the universe and December 31st (particularly the 11th hour, 59th minute, 59th second, and 59th millisecond… and on and on, you get my point I hope) is the most present time. In this scale, what is 87 years? It is only 0.2 seconds. In our new scale of the universe, not even HALF a second has passed. To the universe, our 87 year gap we are studying is just 0.000000006295 % of its history. Think about the last time you contemplated on the last 0.2 seconds of your life. This was probably never because not very much can normally happen in that time, but from our human perspective 87 years is enough for us to re-create a whole city in a 3-D model.

To illustrate what the sky looked like back in 1928, I have embedded two videos below. One is showing the sky as it was the night of December 2nd, 1928 and the other December 2nd, 2015.

My hope for the 3-D Atlanta project is to eventually have the skies as they were in 1928 programmed into the world. Ideally, I would love for it to go something like this: if you were to open the program on February 8th, 2016, then you would see the Atlanta’s night sky as it was in February 8th, 1928. There would also be an “Astronomy” toggle option that allows you to show more details of the sky while the buildings are just outlined background images. This is most definitely something that will come down the road (possibly for years), but in my opinion, that is the innovation this project is looking for – thinking ahead to a whole new and different method of delivering history to any and every person.