AIR

While I’m about to embark on my residency at the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, and getting quite giddy with excitement reading Gap formation in the dust layer of 3D protoplanetary disks, I also have this feeling I’m not alone, being one of three wildly different artists ANAT’s AIR Residencies making things of art-science beauty.

Chris Henschke is at the Australian Synchotron, putting incandescent light bulbs in front of its optical beamline, and Leah Heiss is at NanoVic, making fabric and objects that can heal or communicate something about our wellbeing. Both of them make me feel quite overwhelmed, and yes, both of them are blogging.

Image

i whore for astrophysics

One of my dream residencies would be the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship, all kinds of Robert-Scott-I-am-just-going-outside-and-may-be-some-time excitement. Sadly my tranny drug cocktail precludes immortalising myself thusly. But art and science residencies leave me feeling smutty, like a good early morning somnolent dose of self-love.

ANAT and Arts Victoria are conspiring to make me write more grant applications by offering three different art-science trysts in their Arts Innovation Residencies (AIR) 2007 (great acronym, lexicographically retarded choice of word beginning with ‘i’). At first I didn’t know where to turn, NanoVic for nanotechnology, Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing or the Australian Synchotron (spooky recurrence of the ‘i’ word).

But really, there was only one choice for someone who entertained long and serious (several months even) thoughts of becoming an astronomer, and still gets all gooey over planetary geology. So I started thinking about my current crush on Leibniz, and then got a bit despondent, cos he’s like, old and dead, and didn’t muck around a whole lot with astronomy, unlike the other Age of Reason Royal Society rival, Isaac Newton, who did plenty of celestial investigations. But he did invent calculus, which one of my favourite blogs, Bad Astronomy absolutely loves, not only for it’s astrophysical uses.

Which brings me to the only best-of-2006 post worth reading, of course from Bad Astronomy: The Top Ten Astronomy Images of 2006.

And the Number One Astronomy Picture of 2006 is… Saturn.

What else could it possibly have been?

This image has it all. It’s of a familiar object, seen in an unfamiliar way: back-lit by the Sun, a view impossible from Earth. It shows the whole planet, a rarity from space missions. The image shows very faint details and has very high resolution, a must.

But there is sheer artistry at work here. The colors, the lighting… I love the sun splash in the lower left limb of the planet, and the fans of ethereal mistiness shooting out from the rings. The shading on the planet itself is lovely, while the rings provide a geometric symmetry that is very appealing to the eye.

All this is necessary for the image to be the best, and together they may even be sufficient. But like all true winners, it has that extra addition, the over-the-top detail that pushes it into “all-time” status:

That dot in the center of the image is the Earth. It’s us. Cassini was nearly one billion miles from us when it took this image, orbiting a giant ball of gas as exotic and alien as any place we can imagine. From such a terribly removed location, the entire Earth is reduced to a single point of light, just one among an anonymous many as seen from our robotic proxy as our generation, for the first time in all of history, seeks out our neighborhood and takes a really good look.

That’s why this is the best astronomy image of 2006. And it’s one of the best of all time.

— Bad Astronomy