When you look up at the night sky, each little pinprick of light that is hitting your eyes left its home star light-years ago. You might already know this—it’s a standard fact of star gazing. But really understanding what that means can be hard.
Star Date, a project borne of the recent American Museum of Natural History hackathon, tries to tackle that abstraction by offering a snapshot of what was happening in the world when that light began traveling toward Earth. Roll over a star and you’ll get the New York Times headline that corresponds to how long ago that light left. “It's like being in outer space and receiving the latest edition of The New York Times and looking at history in the present,” Charlye Tran, one of the developers on the project, wrote on the project’s Github page.
A star that’s 29.22 light-years away sends you to a story from August 2nd, 1985. The headline is BRIEFING; Wait a Wowate, and it goes on to say:
On the questionable theory that what Washington needs is one more acronym, R. James Woolsey, former Under Secretary of the Navy, has produced a new unit for measuring time: the Wowate. The initials stand for ''World War II equivalent,'' and one Wowate is equal to the time between Pearl Harbor and the Japanese surrender, or three years and eight months.
Another star, 12.12 light years away, sends you a story from 2002 about how American gun companies were gaining immunity from lawsuits. A star 27.01 light years away reminds us of a landmark case in immigration. A star 28.24 light years away brings up a familiar name: a story of New York Governor Mario Cuomo—father of Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York—exchanging quips during a fundraising event.