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Is Pandora Possible?

Avatar's Director James Cameron speaking at CalTech 4/27/10
Avatar's Director James Cameron speaking at CalTech 4/27/10

My husband, Dan and son, Coleman attended the “Is Pandora Possible?” forum held at the California Institue of Technology (CalTech) Pasadena on Tuesday, April 27th. The Beckman Auditorium was filled to see and hear the panel organized for this stimulating subject. The following are some of the observations/notes Dan took during the presentation.

On the panel were:
o James Cameron, Director, Avatar
o Jess F. Adkins, Associate Professor of Geochemistry and Global Environmental Science, CalTech
o John P. Grotzinger, Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology, CalTech
o Jared R. Leadbetter, Associate Professor of Environmental Microbiology, CalTech
o Robert Hunt (moderator): Astronomer and Visualization Scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope

First clip shown was spaceship nearing Pandora. Approx 6 years to travel. Most of crew asleep for duration of travel (cryogenics). Pandora’s located at Alpha Centauri – closest galaxy to ours.

Many details of the movie were designed to have the viewer find them believable so as to draw them in, even though this is science fiction. For example, rather than traveling across the universe at the speed of light and/or through black holes, the spaceship to Pandora was sub-light, crew dormant. Also, Pandora from afar looks like Earth (blue sphere with clouds). The real differences are in the details when close up.

Why go to Pandora? Again, for a believable reason. It is super expensive to get there, so what could be found should be worth the return on investment. In this case, there exists on Pandora a material, which has superconductive properties at room temperature. On earth, materials which could have superconductive properties usually need to be frozen to nearly absolute zero.

Avatar’s audience should “reonnect with that sense of wonder.” Audience can feel grounded in a sense of reality (examples mentioned above) and then be exposed to differences which may upset them. Also want to make science seem interesting to the viewers.

Plant and animal designs frequently taken from items of nature used out of scale and/or context. For example, small plants on earth were portrayed as big plants on Pandora, etc.

Even though the movie takes place far into the future, the aircraft used on Pandora are manually flown. Instrumentation/drone won’t work due to Pandora’s multiple location magetic fields (eg. versus only north and south poles on earth).

There are mountains on Pandora, but at some of those mountain ranges, they float. Again, differences between earth and Pandora. This also shows the location and high energy strength of the superconductor material on Pandora.

Pandora’s atmosphere is more like that on a young earth – more bacterial and with sulphuric acid.

Question asked by a 10 year old girl to Mr. Cameron: What was your favorite creature on Pandora? Answer: the bioluminescent bacteria.

Research and ideas for much of the plant animal life on Pandora was taken from the sea, especially deep sea. Mr. Cameron claims to have spent over 3,000 hours on dives at sea. This includes scuba and deep-sea submarines.

One of the goals of the movie is to have the viewer develop a “child like connection to nature,” to bring out emotions and spiritual values towards nature. Such goals were decidedly not publicized. It was felt if people were told this up front, as if this were the purpose of the movie, then there would have been less interest in the film. Let the audience go and find out for themselves. Hopefully, this will get the viewers to change the way they think about nature.

20th Century Fox’s goal by the end of 2010 is to become a 100% carbon neutral company. They will be the first carbon neutral media company.

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