Week 10 – Close to Space

As human beings, we are limited by the technology available to us and constricted by the step-by-step progress of its advancements.  Although we have already explored much of space by distant observational techniques like the telescope and planet roamers like the Mars Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, there is still a gap between what we humans have experienced personally and what is solely head knowledge and data.

Throughout the lecture, I was very interested in the work that Adam Burgasser has completed as an observational astrophysicist.  One project that interests me the most is his Project Planetaria, founded in 2011 by Burgasser, Tara Knight who does theater and dance, and Michael Trigilio in Visual Arts.

According to the Project Planetaria website,

Project Planetaria aims to investigate new trans-sensory experiences of our Universe: remapping astronomical information into different sensory pathways and aesthetic modes to extract new meaning and understanding of the cosmic environment.

Project Planetaria aims to encourage appreciation, awareness and reconnection with the Universe through participatory performances, virtual experiences, and integrating new artistic modes into traditional astronomical venues (i.e., the planetarium).

Project Planetaria aims to critically analyze the aesthetic nature of the Universe and of our measurements of it, blending qualitative and quantitative techniques, as well as scientific and artistic perspectives.

One of the ways Burgasser’s project transcends billions of miles to connect humans and stars is evolution of a star translated into music for our ears.  As its life cycle comes to its conclusion, the MESA (Modules in Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics) software package runs and generates a music score inspired by the life and death of the star in focus.  These types of programs help to connect stars and its life to the everyday senses of the average human being.  This simple program has created something much more tangible than what the non-scientists might see in stars, and allows a deeper and more emotional connection through music for people who may enjoy art for its natural foundation in science, even if they have not studied the field.

Another line Burgasser draws is our inherent biological connection to the natural world.  For example, the lunar effect has been a highly studied and controversial matter. There are multiple correlations between certain biological cycles and the phases of the moon, yet we now have new innovations that render the skies obsolete. We no longer need to look at the Universe to tell us time, when our agricultural seasons must start, migration patterns, and Burgasser argues that people have lost their aesthetic appreciation of the utility of the Universe. Is the Universe still appreciated like modern poetry and paintings or is it solely for analyzing and seen from the scientific perspective?

Project Planataria’s first installation, “Solar Variations”, has been installed at UCSD’s Experimental Media Lab in the visual arts department and is already mapping data of sunsets’ light into audio output and UV light into the visible spectrum.

For me, the falling stars and distant unknowns have always been a pleasure aesthetically and scientifically. The movie Interstellar was a fantastic way to show the intersection of science and something more grand and beautiful as the physical portrayal of a wormhole or a black hole. I am very excited to see what the future holds for projects like these as they continue to find new ways to cross galaxies in small steps.

-Kristen Chan



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