National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS
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When science and art meet

By Thibaut Roger

On the 6th and 7th of July 2018, few thousands of visitors, from 1 to 100 years old, enjoyed the 12th edition of the Night of Science. There they could discover sciences, with the thematic of “All an art ?”, under the guidance of few hundreds of scientists and students. The NCCR PlanetS was present through the participation of the Astronomy department of Geneva University.

Once again, the theme of the night of science (at least in French) allowed to explore various points of view on its meaning, and we decided to focus on exploring the long-term relationship between art and astronomy, and how they inspire(d), influence(d) or even help(ed) each others.

Various posters explored this relation, starting with architecture, where building were and are still sometimes developed to match the specific constrains of astronomy, or in other case some of their features were inspired by astronomy. After all, how many times can you see a building with a cupola in Switzerland and not think it’s an observatory ?

Another poster was of course dedicated to the children drawings which are gonna fly on CHEOPS. While three other posters explored the paintings and sculpting inspired by astronomy for one, and the impact of astronomy on imagination, from  mythology to the 7th art going by Monet paintings.

Few activities where also available on our stand, starting with cooking bread simulating the expansion of the Universe, and followed by music inspired by the astronomy. It goes from the musics related to astronomy just by the imagination of their composer, like the full suite of The Planets from Gustav Holst, with a music which seems directly out of a Star Wars movie despite it has been composed 100 years ago (specially the Mars one!); to musics that are directly made thanks to astronomical observations, like the music of Trappist-1 you might have already heard.

Finally, three other activities explored the artistic views in astronomy. The first one was a photo exhibition of real astronomical objects and pictures. And it worked just as planned, many people couldn’t believe they were actual photographies and not painting, specially the Carina Nebula below for example, and were baffled by the art provided already by Nature itself. The two other activities were the creation of artist’s view on the spot, in the first one I was spray painting planetary systems, while the other were performed numerically thanks to Photoshop. The second one was also done with people from the public making artistic choices (colours, type of planet, etc.). During those live art demonstrations, explanations were provided, why do scientists use artistic views, why is it interesting for discussions amongst us, but also with the public, what is important to take care of in the process of rendering an astronomical object (e.g: the center to limb variation in case of a “sun”), and where you have to balance between the physical and the artistic, to best sparkle the imagination of the public, etc. Following are some of those quick artistic views done in collaboration with the public.

This 2-day event surely was a success and has been appreciated by children as much as by adults from Switzerland and abroad. If you would like more information on some of those activities, you can contact me or Sylvia Ekström.

Categories: Internal Newsletter

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