The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Kirakira Special Issue: Celebrating Astronomy and Earth Science in the Koisuru Asteroid Mini-Animations

“There’s always that special pleasure in knowing that, when you look upon that distant light, it has travelled all those light-years – such an incredible journey – just for you.” –Ken Fulton

For my eighth birthday, I received a pair of Bushnell 10×25 Compact roof-prism type binoculars and a copy of Terence Dickinson’s Night Watch. That same evening, I turned these tiny binoculars towards the moon. I was greeted with the lunar landscape thrown into sharper relief, revealing the lunar maria and craters in far more detail than was visible with the naked eye. After locating Ursa Major and Minor, the most famous of constellations, I marvelled at being able to spot the brighter nebulae and star clusters. When winter came, I saw Orion’s nebula with a hitherto unmatched clarity, and learnt to star-hop using Canis Major and Orion as guideposts. In the years ahead, my love of the night skies led me to pursue astronomical events I could see from my backyard: I used Night Watch to plan ahead for total lunar eclipses and meteor showers, even getting up at two in the morning to watch one particularly impressive Leonids meteor shower, where I was lucky enough to see a fireball. I would check out books on astronomy, the solar system and the cosmos at the local library, rushing through my homework so I could peruse subjects of greater interest. At that age, I longed to learn everything there was to know about the heavens and its majesty. Over the years, my eyes turned inward towards the arcane world of software systems as I studied computer sciences, building constructs and worlds powered by the pulsing of electrons across a silicon transistor. However, when Koisuru Asteroid aired as the first anime of the new decade, my interest in the skies were rekindled, and although I may have forgotten the names of the constellations I once spent hours reading about, navigating the sky with naught more than a pair of binoculars remains as intuitive as it did all those years ago.

Koisuru Asteroid, in following the journey of Mira Konohata and Ao Manaka as they work towards fulfilling a lifelong promise of discovering an asteroid, lovingly presents the character’s passion for their chosen disciplines. In this way, Koisuru Asteroid, known as Asteroid in Love in English, is very much a love story – it is a romantic and sentimental tale of falling in love with the sciences, with the Earth below and night skies above. From the frustrations resulting from events beyond one’s control, to the indescribable majesty and splendour of natural phenomenon, Koisuru Asteroid suggests that a career in the sciences is no different than falling in love, with both moments of abject dejection and unparalleled wonder, a journey where individuals who persist, stick it out and put in the effort to work things out will be rewarded beyond imagination. Through its simple but touching story, Koisuru Asteroid is a love letter to the sciences, the discipline of understanding the natural world. Through the sciences, humanity has advanced beyond recognition in the past thousand years, making incredible strides in health, engineering, technology, mathematics and physics to bring about innovation of the likes that have not been seen before. Virtually every aspect of life owes itself to science, and Koisuru Asteroid is one of those few anime that appropriately convey the sorts of events that can send one down a career in science: Ao and Mira’s childhood promise creates a path for the two, leading them on a journey of exploration and discovery in the name of bettering mankind.

Facts from the Geoscience Club and A Koiasu Time-lapse

  • Mira is named after Omicron Ceti, a red giant variable in the constellation Cetus (“The Whale”). It is one of the earliest variable stars discovered, with astronomer Johannes Holwarda being credited for ascertaining that its period was 332 days. During this time, its apparent magnitude varies from 2.0 (easily visible to the naked eye) to 10.1 (requiring a telescope to spot). Being one of the earliest variable stars discovered, Mira is derived from the Latin mirus for “wonderful”, which forms the root of the modern word “miracle”. In Koisuru Asteroid, this star is what Mira is named after: her name is rendered in hiragana, みら, indicating viewers can take her name to mean “wonderous”.

  • There are three classification of rocks, mineral aggregates: from left to right, sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. Sedimentary rocks are formed from accumulation of particles cemented together and are further subdivided based on the agent that binds them together (e.g. clastic, mudrocks, biological and chemical). Igneous rocks form from the cooling and solidification of lava. They are either plutonic (cooling slowly over time underground) or volcanic (cooling relatively rapidly as a result of being expelled to the surface). Finally, metamorphic rocks form when sedimentary or igneous rock is subject to extreme heat and pressure. There are three types of metamorphic rock, classified by the mode of formation (either by heat, pressure or both). Mira seems quite shocked when Mikage does so, but the reality is that splitting rocks with a hammer is a common practise for revealing its internal structure.

  • Lithology refers to the physical attributes of a rock at its surface, as well as the process of subdividing a region for mapping purposes. This is a multi-disciplinary practise, requiring a combination of geology and cartography to conduct. The resulting maps give a fantastic visual summary of the composition of each area, which has implications on economic activity such as mining, as well as land use and urban planning. Mai feels that with how colourful the map is, it could be worn as a bit of an avant garde dress.

  • Telescopes have two major types of mounts: the altitude-azimuth (alt-az) mount is the simpler of the two, simply being a coupling that allows the telescope to be moved left-right (azimuth) and up-down (altitude). While easier to understand, it is tricky to keep tracking of moving astronomical objects over time. An equatorial mount, on the other hand, has an axis parallel to the Earth’s rotation, and once this is set, moving the telescope in a direction will allow one to track astronomical objects more easily. In general, alt-az mounts are better suited for terrestrial objects (e.g. tactical spotting scopes), while for astronomy, the equatorial mount’s advantages make it a superior choice.

  • Index fossils (left) are named after the fact that they can be used to identify a geological timeframe based on the fact that even if the sediment they are deposited into differ, the fossils belong to the same species with a very wide distribution. A zonal fossil (right), on the other hand, is a subtype of index fossil that bears the same characteristics, but belongs to a species with a very narrow distribution.

  • The lunar cycle is, on average, about 27.54 days in length owing to the moon’s elliptical orbit. Lunar phases result from changes to the shape of the sunlit portion of the moon’s surface as a result of the moon’s position relative to the Earth, as well as the direction of the sunlight. Because the moon is tidally locked to the Earth, the same side of the moon almost always faces the Earth: this is known as the near side of the moon, and even to the naked eye, the Sea of Tranquility, where the Apollo 11 mission landed, is visible. By comparison, the far side of the moon is pockmarked in craters, lacking the basalt flats of the near side.

  • Meteor showers occur when meteors originate from a common point in the night sky. While meteors can be spotted in almost any evening as a result of small objects, usually no wider than a grain of dust, entering the atmosphere, meteor showers are distinct in that tens, or even hundreds, of meteors can be observed during its peak. Showers result from the Earth travelling through debris streams resulting from comets, which discard trails of material as their surface is eroded by solar radiation. When the Earth passes through these debris trails, the material enters the Earth’s atmosphere at an increased rate, resulting in meteor showers.

  • Inspired by the drive Mira and Ao had, Mai decides to participate in the Japanese Science Olympiad, a qualifier for making the national team which would compete at the International Science Olympiad, an event that pushes the brightest high school students around the world in terms of knowledge and exam-taking skills. Competition categories are broken up by discipline, and here, the results of previous competitions are shown. This year, the event’s been cancelled on account of the ongoing world health crisis, but last year, they would’ve occurred this past weekend. While Mai did not make the qualifying round, it still proved a valuable learning experience for her, and also helped her to gain the confidence in leading the Earth Sciences club as Mikage and Mari graduate.

  • Prior to 2006, all astronomy books indicated that there were nine planets. Since 2006, Pluto’s been designated a dwarf planet. There are thus eight planets. The inner planets are characterised by a primarily rocky composition, and the outer planets have a gaseous makeup. The planets are separated by the asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter: in our solar system, the reason why the inner planets are terrestrial is because primarily because of their proximity to the sun. The sun had cleared most of the local hydrogen gas in its formation, and after it began undergoing fusion, solar winds would disperse gas before they had a chance to accumulate. In other planetary systems, Hot Jupiter and Hot Neptunes have been observed. They are thought to form outside of the Frost Line and then migrate into short-period orbits later.

  • Yū has a chance to explain one of her favourite atmospheric phenomenon: the circumhorizontal arc. These typically form from the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals suspended high in the atmosphere, which creates a rainbow band of light running parallel to the horizon. Because the phenomenon requires the sun to be relatively high in the sky (58º or more), circumhorizontal arcs do not occur north of 55ºN and south of 55ºS. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a circumhorizontal arc before, but in my area, thanks to cold winter days with a brilliant sky, halos and sun dogs are much more common.

  • The question of why stars twinkle is one that children inevitably ask: the answer is simple enough, resulting from the fact that light needs to travel through the atmosphere in order to reach our eyes. The light from stars is coming from an exceedingly distant point, and the photons are diffracted as it travels through the air, which is constantly moving. Light from the planets, on the other hand, is much more intense, and enough photons travel through the atmosphere to our eyes so that the light appears constant. Of course, in particularly calm air, stars will twinkle just a little less.

  • There we have it, eleven tidbits from the Koisuru Asteroid omake specials that accompanied the BDs. These short specials are a pleasant addition to the series, and while adding nothing to the themes or story, indicate that Koisuru Asteroid spared no effort to ensure that the science is correct. It was fun to see all of the characters return in chibi form to give minute-long presentations of the various topics the anime covered in the anime; writing for this post proved equally enjoyable, as I looked through various books I have on astronomy and earth sciences to put things together. While one wonders about the decision to spend a beautiful long weekend indoors, in my defense, the weather was incredibly hot, a little too intense to be outside. With a delicious spicy burger and corn on the cob that I enjoyed on a hot Sunday afternoon, it does properly feel like summer now.

  • The other special surprise in this post is a time-lapse video that accompanied the BDs, portraying the real-world locations that Mira and Ao visited during the course of the Shining Star Challenge. With some four months having passed since Koisuru Asteroid‘s finale aired, the themes and messages I got from the series remains unchanged, although now, I further add that the show’s name, Koisuru Asteroid, can actually to be rendered as Koisuru Shōwakusei (恋する小惑星) as well as 恋するアステロイド. Multiple possible titles is a callback to the fact that in science, there can be multiple hypothesises, methods and approaches to a problem.

  • As such, for Koisuru Asteroid‘s “in love” (i.e. 恋する) piece, it is quite valid to see the series as being a love letter to science itself, and that the characters’ love refers to not romantic love for one another, but a love for the sciences. Each of Mira, Ao, Mai, Mikage, Mari, Chikage and Yū are in love with science in some way: astronomy for Mira, Ao and Mari, geology for Mikage and Chikage, and meteorology for Yū. From this perspective, Koisuru Asteroid was never intended to be a yuri series, and supposing the love refers to a love for science, the series lives up to its name and delivers the koisuru equally as well as the asteroid to viewers.

  • My verdict for Koisuru Asteroid thus requires a slight update. Upon finishing this anime back in March, I counted it as a 9.5 of 10, a near-perfect score. Having now connected the dots in a different way and appreciating what the series was intending to do, Koisuru Asteroid is a perfect 10 of 10, a masterpiece. I understand that this is a polarising statement, but for me, in reminding me of my love for astronomy, the series has indeed resulted in a positive, tangible change on my worldview. This is one of my criteria for what makes a masterpiece in my books, and as such, I have no problem upgrading Koisuru Asteroid to join the ranks of other masterpiece-tier anime, such as CLANNADAngel Beats!Sora no WotoK-On! and Tari Tari, that I’ve seen.

  • As the time-lapse special portrays the shifting skies, I’ll do a rundown of my personal four favourites as far as astronomical events go. Starting off the list is my best-ever total lunar eclipse from January of last year, which saw the moon turn bright red and reaching a level 5 on the Danjon scale. With binoculars, lunar features could be seen without any problem, and the hours leading up to the eclipse, I watched as the Earth’s shadow stole across the moon.

  • Second on my list are aurora borealis, which form when charged particles from solar wind interact with and excite electrons in oxygen and nitrogen atoms. When the electrons leave high-energy orbitals for lower ones, they release photons, which are visible as shimmering curtains of light. Aurora displays are not exclusive to the winter months and occur whenever there is elevated solar activity, and it captivating to watch auroral shows at night. One of the brightest ones I’d seen was back during January of 2016.

  • In second place is the Leonids meteor shower I saw during November 2001. This was forecast to be one of the most spectacular displays in recent history, and saw upwards of 50 meteors per hour during its peak. At one point, I saw three meteors coming out of the same point in the sky, and moments after deciding I’d had a good run, I saw a blue fireball streak across the sky.

  • Finally, my favourite moments come from being able to see a starry sky without the aid of any equipment. Many years back, as I was leaving Banff townsite during a clear evening, I looked up and found myself facing a sky full of stars. In the city, street lamps and night lighting wash the stars out, and it is only with a good pair of binoculars that fainter stars are visible. These days, the road leading out of Banff are well-lit, and such a sight is no longer possible.

  • This brings my latest, and likely the last, Koisuru Asteroid post I have, to a close: anime series that celebrate science in an everyday context are incredibly rare, and Koisuru Asteroid excels in presenting this journey of discovery. It is my hope that as a whole, public interest in astronomy and space travel is rekindled – there is nothing more humbling than seeing the scale of the universe, and nothing more inspiring than working together to reach the heavens. All of the world’s greatest advancements began with small steps, and even something as simple as a childhood promise to name a hiterto undiscovered asteroid “Ao”, can potentially yield a world-changing discovery, a giant leap for mankind. Thus, this post draws to a close, and since today is special, I note that I will have another post published in a few hours.

For the longest time, I felt a kind of melancholy in the solitude I experienced while stargazing: my peers had no interest in the hobby, and since the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, the American space programme began to decline. I’d grown up reading about the might of NASA and the magnitude of their accomplishments, from managing a successful docking manoeuvre in orbit with Project Gemini program of the 1960s and their crown jewel, the first successful manned lunar landing in July 1969, to the development of the Skylab space station and Space Shuttle, a reusable launch craft. Since then, the International Space Station and the fleet of Russian Soyuz craft have been about as extensive as the world’s interest in space exploration had been. However, in recent years, Elon Musk’s SpaceX program and their successes appear to have rekindled public interest in private space travel: the Dragon represents a massive leap forwards in reusable spacecraft. With it comes excitement about astronomical events, and people who share a common interest in both astronomy and space travel. Anime like Koisuru Asteroid, then, excel at showing the possibility and potential for discovery when like-minded people come together, unified by a common interest and passion for the sciences. Watching Mira and Ao start their journey, meet Chikage, Mari, Mai, Mikage and Yū and ultimately, earn their first stripes by participating in the Shiny Star Challenge, was immeasurably heartwarming and brought back memories of a younger me who’d felt joy unmatched when turning a pair of binoculars towards the night skies. Koisuru Asteroid represents a sincere, heartfelt and successful effort to capture the joys of sciences, a discipline whose members have earned my respect a milliard times over for having done so much for the world: even something as simple as a TV series can inspire viewers to take up the path of sciences, and those who pursue such a journey will find that, beyond all of the hard work and struggle that accompanies it, is an immeasurably rewarding experience, one that offers discovery and the possibility at bettering this world further. For me, I’ve decided to dust off my 10×50 binoculars and a copy of The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide – the summer skies remain as inviting as ever, and in a week, the Perseids will peak. With some luck, I may be able to spot another fireball, just as I did all those years ago.

4 responses to “Kirakira Special Issue: Celebrating Astronomy and Earth Science in the Koisuru Asteroid Mini-Animations

  1. Yon Nyan August 4, 2020 at 16:42

    The science in this was pretty cool and definitely something I liked the most.


  2. Fred (Au Natural) August 4, 2020 at 17:40

    Around July 24th, I wandered out to the mountains north of town to catch comet Neowise to the northwest. Even with 20 miles of mountains between me and LA and at 7000 ft., there was enough light pollution that I could not locate the comet without binoculars. After I’d located it I was able to see it as long as I didn’t look directly at it. Not a lot of things were visible that were dimmer than 2nd magnitude.

    I was a science nut when I was a child too. For me it didn’t work out. Somewhere in high school I disintegrated emotionally and never really recovered. I tried computer science but that was beyond me as well.

    It irritates me that this genre has been deprecated and called merely “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things.” Something is “cute” when it is adorable but not to be taken seriously. There is nothing “cute” about science or climbing mountains or solo camping in the winter. The term belittles what is a demanding activity requiring determination and a profound love of whatever is being pursued.

    I like to change it to “Committed Girls Doing Difficult things.” Probably would not get much support in anime-land. It is too easy to dismiss things that one wouldn’t (likely couldn’t) do oneself as “cute.”


    • infinitezenith August 5, 2020 at 20:30

      I too tried to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE on the 23rd of July: the media had, almost incessantly, been advertising the comet as a Hale-Bopp equivalent, that it was effortlessly visible to the naked eye. However, for much of July, clouds kept rolling into my area, and I was denied, week after week. Finally, during the comet’s perigee, I was afforded some clear skies. I stepped into the night, and located Ursa Major. However, NEOWISE was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t until I pulled out a star chart and a pair of binoculars that I found the comet: a miserable magnitude 7.7 smudge just barely visible. It was nothing like the sites had advertised, and NEOWISE was one of the biggest astronomical disappointments in my recent memory. My area has a similar Bortle Index as LA, although in recent years, we changed out the street lamps, and I have no trouble resolving magnitude 3 objects without any instruments.

      As a high school student, biology and chemistry held my interests the most strongly: our curriculum does not have a substantial astronomy or earth science component at the secondary level, but for me, the intricacies of the body and its reactions captivated me. I wondered if I would be able to use algorithms to probe its mysteries further. As a university student, I came to fall in love with the idea of using computer science to explore complex systems and make complex processes simple for users. This is what prompted me to pursue iOS development.

      Admittedly, watching Ao, Mira, Hina, Aoi, Rin and Nadeshiko pursue their passions as ardently as they do does bring to mind watching a field full of rabbits frolicking about. I would imagine that this is what people are referring to: that warm sense of contentment at watching things unfold for the characters 🙂 With this being said, people who disavow the genre on account of these series using similar character archetypes or tropes usually enter with the wrong expectations. For Koisuru Asteroid, one of the leading complaints was the absence of implicit female romances; these individuals were so fixated on not getting their quota of yuri that they overlooked the more meaningful aspect of the anime, and I absolutely agree with you in that the people who dismiss such series the quickest are likely those who are most lacking, in ability or drive, to explore something new, whether it be astronomy or winter camping!

      Liked by 1 person

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