What comes to mind when you think of artwork? How do paintings, sculpture and movies make you feel?
Most people would agree that art inspires human connection: entertainment, enjoyment, love, emotion, creativity. So how about if we combine it with a field of study on the complete other end of the spectrum? Science, with its reliance on numbers and facts, may seem like it has nothing in common with the visual arts - but the two are undeniably linked.
Seeing helps us to understand. Historically, famous artworks like Van Gogh's The Starry Night took astronomical observations of the moon and various planets to depict them with a lot of emotional influence. Van Gogh's work shows the stars as a lively swirl of white light, sitting awash in a background of deep blue, and the detail was realised to match up closely with recorded nebulae present in the sky at that time.
With the evolution of technology and information accessible in the 21st century, artists are now able to create highly scientific, accurate and informative depictions of our universe. By taking various kinds of data from a planetary body - for example, surface temperature, atmosphere, distance from sun or elemental composition - it is possible to create a portrait of the universe that almost identically resembles a photograph.
Often for this purpose hand-painted, sketched, or physically modelled components are then further enhanced in digital composition and editing software. This is especially important where, as so often happens in astronomy, we are unable to observe or photograph the object first-hand. Influential artists in this field include Lucien Rudaux, Chesley Bonestell and Ron Miller.
Furthermore, planetary bodies or stars can be captured with multilayered photography. This sort of composition requires multiple sets of data and/or photographs combined, which can require multiple space missions and many years to assemble. One such example of this is Saturn Rises Behind a World of Haze.
Saturn Rises Behind a World of Haze is comprised of multiple different photographs brought together to create the final product. Upon realising it would be too difficult to accurately depict 2005's black and white Saturn Through the Haze in full colour, the team sought out another way to understand how this view of Saturn would appear. Images taken from the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera using red, green and blue filters were used in combination to create the atmosphere of Titan, seen in the foreground of Saturn Rises Behind a World of Haze. The Saturn portion of the image was captured a few months later from the same Cassini mission. Both images were combined using digital image editing software.
As our understanding of space increases, new advances in astronomy are planned that incorporate art in different ways. SpaceX, for instance, in combination with Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has announced a mission to send eight creatives on a private mission to orbit the moon. This mission, titled #DearMoon, aims to find out how seeing the moon up close, and the Earth from afar, will influence this global art project.
Just imagine what kind of advancements we might see next - both astronomical, artistic, and everything in between.
- Staci Pearlman is studying arts and science at the Australian National University. She is working passionately to engage youth in science and astronomy, dabbling in amateur astronomy, astrophotography and science communication.