Lunar Archaeology

december 21st, 2013

In 1969, the third man to walk on the moon, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., also became the first lunar archaeologist. As part of the Apollo 12 crew, he examined an earlier robotic lander, Surveyor 3, and retrieved its TV camera, aluminum tubing and other hardware, giving NASA scientists back on Earth the evidence they needed to study how human-made materials fared in the lunar environment.


Conrad examines the unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which landed on the moon on April 19, 1967. He retrieved its TV camera, aluminum tubing and other hardware. Credit: NASA, Johnson Space Center

Like all astronauts who have visited the moon, Conrad also left behind artifacts of his own. Some were symbolic, such as the U.S. flag. Others were prosaic: cameras, dirty laundry and bags of human waste. NASA’s list of Apollo-related items left on the surface is 18 single-spaced pages. It ranges from geology hammers to earplug wrappers, seismographs to sleep hammocks. Even golf balls belonging to Alan Shepard, who managed some practice during Apollo 14, remain on the moon, though they appear to have escaped the notice of the list makers. All told, six manned landings, two manned orbital missions, over a dozen robotic landings and more than a dozen more crash sites offer signs of a multinational human presence on and around the moon. Each item left behind may seem like a small scrap for a man, but together they offer a giant look at mankind.

“These sites are time capsules,” says Beth O’Leary, an anthropologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. They host valuable artifacts for archaeologists and anthropologists who want to study humanity’s growing space heritage. Failed instruments at lunar landing sites, for example, might reveal the engineering or management missteps behind them, the same way the sinking of a ship on earth could tell us something about its commanders or passengers. Archaeologists might even want to study the DNA of microbes in the astronauts’ waste for clues to the diet and health of these early pioneers. “People’s idea is that archaeologists are interested in 1,000 years ago, 100 years ago,” O’Leary says, “but here we’re talking about the modern past.”

The effort may not sound urgent. The moon has almost no air, water or geological activity to corrode or otherwise damage artifacts, but a new generation of missions are headed there and they boost the risk that someone or something will interfere with existing sites. The recent robotic landing by the Chinese National Space Agency, the first controlled landing since the 1976 Luna 24 mission, signals a renewal of sophisticated lunar exploration. This time around, more countries will be involved, as will commercial entities. Private organizations are in hot pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers cash rewards for achieving technical milestones, one of which is landing near the Apollo sites.

O’Leary’s interest goes back to 1999, when a graduate student in a seminar she was teaching asked if American preservation laws applied to artifacts left on the moon. O’Leary didn’t know, so she looked into the question, soon discovering that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents nations from making sovereignty claims in space. It does not address, however, the preservation of property that nations have left behind. O’Leary persuaded NASA to fund her research into the topic, and published what she calls the Lunar Legacy Project. She and colleagues created an inventory of the Apollo 11 landing site and began lobbying for its formal protection. By then, private companies such as Lockheed Martin were already discussing taking samples from other lunar sites for study. The hardware itself still belonged to the governments that put it there (the United States and Russia, the primary heir of the Soviet space program), but that would be little consolation if a modern mission ran over the first human footprints on the moon, for example, or moved an object without documenting its original location.

O’Leary helped lobby California and New Mexico, states with strong ties to the space program, to list the Apollo 11 objects in their state historic registers. The move offered symbolic protection and attracted attention to the problem but didn’t do anything to solve it. There was, and still is, nothing to stop new visitors from interfering with objects already in space.  Vandalism probably isn’t the biggest concern, but even unintentional interference is worrisome. Landing near existing sites could damage the sites, in the case of a crash or from the spray of lunar dust and rocket exhaust. “My concern would be that they miss,” says Roger Launius, senior curator of space history at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “If they miss by just a little bit, they could end up landing on top of the site.” And well-meaning archaeologists, though guided by the cultural legacy laws and professional codes wherever they work, do destroy part of what they study as a matter of routine.


Lunar Regolith 70050 sample collected from the moon by the Apollo 17 mission

O’Leary would like the moon sites preserved as long as possible so that future archaeologists, perhaps with more sophisticated instruments and less damaging techniques, can examine them for clues about the human story of the landings. Scientists and engineers also have an interest in preserving the sites: They want to study how equipment left on the moon ages, like they did with the samples Conrad took from Surveyor 3. They also want to resolve questions about moon rocks that couldn’t be answered the first time around, including the size of a patch of orange volcanic glass discovered by geologist Harrison Schmitt during the Apollo 17 mission.


Apollo 17 troctolite 76535. This sample has a mass of 156 grams and is up to 5 centimeters across. NASA/Johnson Space Center photograph S73-19456.

Abstract of article by Lucas Laursen on


november 10th, 2010

\ Cosmology of Genetology \ CG \ 1
Fourth quire of a larger publication about Genetology, November 2010

cosmology of genetology

cosmology of genetology

Size: 100 x 70 cm (poster) 50 x 70 cm (folded)
Published by CBK Rotterdam
Text: Martin Wen-Yu Lo 羅聞宇
Design: Raf Vancampenhoudt
Editor: Willem Vanden Eynde



Without a doubt, the single most important problem in physics and cosmology today is Dark Matter. Consider after all of the incredible advancements in science and technology in the 20th century, today, a decade into the 21st century, we still do not know what more than 96% of the universe is made of! Not a clue!

How is this possible when we are able to peer through powerful telescopes in spacetime back to the beginning of the universe, almost at the instant of the Big Bang, that we don’t know what constitutes most of the universe? It brings into question our concept of knowledge, the world, reality, our very being. What is this dark universe to which we belong yet without awareness for so long?

And yet, the world is even more marvelous than we can ever imagine. I present here only one of many theories of dark matter that is being studied by scientists today. It is one which I think is the simplest and the most elegant, called the Brans Conjecture, named after the general relativist, Carl Brans, who first conceived this theory in 1991. The Brans Conjecture explains dark matter as a phenomenon created by a topological property of spacetime called exotic smoothness. We shall explain these strange sounding terms shortly, but for now, the point is that there may not be any “real” dark matter at all according to Bran’s theory. Instead, just as Einstein told us that spacetime is curved by gravity, Brans is telling us that another geometric property of spacetime may be a new type of “smoothness”. When viewed from a part of spacetime with ordinary smoothness such as our own, the distant regions of spacetime with exotic smoothness will appear to have extra forces appearing as dark matter and dark energy.

What is smoothness? The Chinese word for smooth consists of two characters: 光滑. 光 means light , empty, free of things that can obstruct. 滑 means slippery, the three dashes on the left is the radical for water, and the character to the right is for “bone”. My interpretation is that the water makes the floor slippery so you can break your bone on it. Mathematically, this concept can be made very precise: something smooth can be locally approximated by flat surfaces, which is the “differential” – a linear approximation which forms the basis for calculus. Hence smooth objects are also known as “differentiable” and the smooth structure on a smooth object is called its “differential structure”.

Since the invention of calculus by Newton and Leibnitz, mathematicians have taken for granted that there is only one kind of “smoothness” or “differential structure” on an object of any dimension. These smooth regular objects are called manifolds, conceived and described first by Riemann in the early 19th  century. Ever since Descartes coordinatized space by “Cartesian Coordinates” like the regular grids of vertical Avenues and horizonal Streets used to coordinatize Midtown Manhattan (New Amsterdam), we think of N-dimensional space, called RN, as the set of points each with a lable [x1, x2, … xN] where x1 is the coordinate in the first dimension, x2 is the coordinate for the second, and so on.  From this point of view, there really isn’t that much difference between a 3D world coordinatized by [x1, x2, x3] and the 4D world coordinatized by [x1, x2, x3, x4]. You just add another coordinate and everything is more or less the same – or so it seems.

In reality, each dimension is an entirely different beast. Although coordinate-wise all dimensions look the same, [x1, x2, … xN], geometrically every dimension is different in its own way. The situation is so utterly fantastic that even mathematicians themselves had a hard time believing this phenomenon. In 1954, while researching the fabled “Poincaré Conjecture” to characterize the simplest manifold we know, the sphere, John Milnor chanced upon the discovery that S7, the 7-th dimensional sphere, had more than one smooth structure! He called these “exotic spheres”. In fact, there are exactly 28 different smooth structures on S7. More over, it is different in every dimension! The computation of the number of exotic structures in each dimension is very complicated involving Bernoulli numbers.


Now, you will notice from Table 1 that in every dimension from 1 to 20, the number of exotic spheres is known – except in dimension 4, the dimension of spacetime in which we live. This number is the famous “Smooth Poincaré Conjecture in Dimension 4” which is still an open problem. In fact, dimension 4 is truly unique in the context of exotic smoothness.

>  In every other dimension, exotic manifolds (high dimensional surfaces) can have only finite numbers of distinct exotic smooth structures. In dimension 4, every known exotic manifold has infinite number of exotic smooth structures.

>  In every other dimension, the N-dimensional Euclidean space, RN, given by the set of all coordinates { [x1, x2, … xN], where x1, x2, … xN is a real number}, has only one smooth structure. In dimension 4, RN has an uncountable number of smooth structures.

One cannot help but see that dimension 4 is truly unique in a way which we are still grasping to understand. These facts about exotic smoothness in dimension 4 were only discovered in the 1980’s.

As strange as the ideas of invisible dark matter/energy and exotic smoothness seem to us today, one day in the near future, we will understand what they are and how to manipulate matter, energy, and spacetime with these new concepts. Consider Einstein’s equation E = MC2 and the vast consequences it brought to the world, we cannot but sit up and pay attention when something so fundamental as our knowledge of the nature of matter has been put into doubt! What we think we know best, our material world, is now but a mere shadow of a vast universe we have absolutely no knowledge of. And we can’t even see it! It goes right through us, like phantoms and ghosts. We will turn our attention to the three key aspects in which these concepts touch our lives.

Dark matter cannot be directly observed since they reflect no light thus is completely dark. Hence the only way to detect it at the present is to infer its existence from the way it affects the motion of nearby ordinary matter which we can see. This is how it was discovered. While studying the Coma galaxy cluster in 1933, Fritz Zwicky first noticed that the motion of the cluster indicated there was missing mass in order to account for the faster velocities of the galaxies observed. He coined the term “Dark Matter” for this missing mass. It was not taken seriously at first until in the 1960’s Vera Rubin, using more sensitive instruments, was able to measure the velocities of stars in a galaxy with great precision. She expected stars at a distance further from the center of the galaxy would move slower according to Keplerian orbital theory. To her great surprise, she found all the stars in the galaxy have nearly the same velocties even for stars at the edge of the galaxy where they should move much more slowly. The current accepted theory is that this could only be explained by the existence of dark matter.

When we speak of dark matter and dark energy, there really are two distinct phenomena here. While dark matter is invisible matter in the universe, dark energy is a type of repulsive force causing an accelerated expansion of the universe. From the equivalence of mass and energy from Einstein’s famous equation, dark energy also forms a part of the mass energy of the Universe.

At the moment, exotic smoothness remains a mathematical curiosity without any physical expression or application. However, as we have noted the very unusual multiplicity of exotic manifolds in dimension 4, the dimension of our space-time, suggests that perhaps there are real physical expressions of this phenomenon. At the moment, the problem is that we don’t even know how to work with these exotic manifolds numerically. No one knows how to coordinatize exotic R4, the 4-dimensional Euclidean space, for instance. The standard coordinates [x1, x2, x3, x4] is not smooth for exotic R4’s. So when a 3D fluid is in motion, the 4D simulation object (here time is the 4th dimension) can reach singularities as in turbulence, wave breaking, etc. Is it possible that some of these effects can be described by a change in the smooth structure from the standard smoothness to an exotic smooth structure?

As to the philosophical implications, our species has been in existence on Earth for millennia, yet we are just beginning to discover that the solid real world is not what it seems. It is just 4% of the real Universe. This brings into question our sense of reality, of the solidness of the world, of material things. What is the reality of the other 96% of the Universe which we can neither see nor touch, of which we have absolutely no idea what is involved?  What is called into question is not the scientific method which continues to be one of the few lights we have to guide our way around the universe.

What is called into question is the hubris that we now know everything there is to know about the world. What is left unknown is just a few details to clean up our theory. But the Tree of Knowledge is much bigger than we can ever imagine. We see but a small branch and that through a glass dimly. For example, the mathematician Göedel showed that any logical system is incomplete. This great theorem means that if we start out with a set of assumptions (called axioms), there are statements we can make based on these assumptions which can neither be proven to be true or false within these assumption. This means our logic is inherently unable to solve all of our problems. What there is beyond logic is yet to be discovered.

Exotic Smoothness, like Dark Matter, was only discovered in the mid 20th century, a phenomenon which only occurs in dimensions 4 and higher. Whether or not this topological property of spacetime may explain Dark Matter or Dark Energy is not the main point of interest here. What is of interest here is the fact that, like our understanding of the material physical world, our mathematical concept of space is extremely limited by our 3D view of things. The world is a much stranger place than we can ever know or realize.

This should all make us question our materialistic point of view about the nature of reality. We should be more humble and open to other possibilities and other paths to knowledge. But, this is not a call to abandon rationalism or logic in any sense. Reason and logic are the only certain tools we have for dealing with reality. We must use them to discover and climb the other branches of the Tree of Knowledge. As to what these new tools beyond logic might be, I don’t have the slightest idea at the moment. But based on our experience with Dark Matter, our logical system may also represent only a small fraction (maybe 4%?) of various systematic methods to explore and understand the Universe. Intellectually, there may be a transcendental form of reasoning and method of knowing beyond Aristotelian logic yet to be discovered.The knowledge that comes to us through dreams and visions must be understood and interpreted properly. 20th century intelligentsia tended to treat this as inconsequential and bordering on superstitions. Given the waves of rising fundamentalism around the world, this is understandable. But this is a big mistake to think of the non-rational aspects of the psyche as irrational; it is transcendental. What we must achieve is to integrate the two aspects of our mind, the rational with the transcendental to become Whole as Jung would see it.

One person who has come up with an alternate method of knowing is Carl Jung and his theories of the Collective Unconscious and Synchronicity. This brings us to the world of human psyche, spirituality and religion. This also brings us to the world of art because in both these worlds, symbols play a key role. Truth may be expressed in symbolic form through dreams, visions, and art when words and equations are inadequate. As an illustration, I mention Plato’s Symposium where he explains what love is all about in one of the most profound and beautiful stories. Of course, this is not factual. It’s a parable. Surely even in ancient Greece no one believed in this story verbatim. It’s not meant to be factually true. And yet, when you read it, it touches a profound truth within you which delights you heart and makes you say “Oh, yes! That’s how it is. I fall in love when I find and recognize my missing half!” This truth about falling in love is very different from that of the chemistry of attraction and feromones. However, we need both. Neither is complete by itself. It must be integrated.

The knowledge that comes to us through dreams and visions must be understood and interpreted properly. 20th century intelligentsia tended to treat this as inconsequential and bordering on superstitions. Given the waves of rising fundamentalism around the world, this is understandable. But this is a big mistake to think of the non-rational aspects of the psyche as irrational; it is transcendental. What we must achieve is to integrate the two aspects of our mind, the rational with the transcendental to become Whole as Jung would see it.

The ideas about Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Exotic Smoothness should shock us into realization that Reality is much more profound than the material world we know through our senses alone. We have by no means reached the end of the road so far as our knowledge of what Reality is all about.

Martin Wen-Yu Lo 羅聞宇

When Suddenly It Hit Me

november 8th, 2010

Rinus Van de Velde
Physical Items Themselves Are Not Evidence, 2009

rinus van de velde

Rinus Van de Velde uses signs as a means to put a recalcitrant reality in order. His starting point is shaped through the world of photographic representation. Having an extensive personal archive of images ranging from (semi)scientific magazines such as the National Geographic to biographies of artists and scientists, these images form a rich source for series of drawings in which the source material is still recognizably present. The resemblance between all these pictures is not so much what they show but how they show it. By using the photographs as material for a drawing and by situating it in a different context by adding text, Van de Velde ignores the facts and creates space to tell a personal story. The aim isn’t to tell the reality behind the photo but to create third degree myth. Many of the photographs that Van de Velde references are part of an ideology that isn’t completely right or which hasn’t survived the test of time: like the deep rooted faith in the myth of the artist as authentic or autonomous, scientific progress or paternal exotism. Instead of dismantling, Van de Velde weaves through text and reciprocally references a new story. The result is a sort of mirror-universe, inhabited by brave alter-egos that map the world around them and function as ideal representatives of the actual artist.

When Suddenly It Hit Me, 2009

rinus van de velde

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Dip-Stick, 2005

Maarten Vanden Eynde dip-stick

Small wooden sculpture, planed square on one side, the other is inflicted like a burned lump or black tumor, like a stick dipped in dark matter.

Paper Moon

november 4th, 2010

Paul Ramirez Jonas
Paper Moon (I Create as I Speak)
, 2007

Paul Ramirez Jonas

Consisting of sheets of paper tiled to represent an image of the moon, upon closer inspection, the design is made up of text that reads, “I Create as I Speak.” A single sheet is removed from the wall and rests on a lectern, with a microphone and a portable amplifier, inviting the viewer to interact with the work. The text plays with words; “I Create as I Speak” translates to ABRACADABRA in the ancient Aramaic language.

Toril Johannessen (with Vilde Salhus Røed)
Large and partly spectacular solar eclipse (08.01.08), seen from a hill between our houses, 2008

Toril Johannessen

Toril Johannessen


november 2nd, 2010

Tomás Saraceno
Iridescent Plant Medium with Lamp, 2009

tomas saraceno

The luminous and roughly human-height Iridescent Plant Medium with Lamp consists of a sphere dressed in a billowing sheath of iridescent foil in a dark room. Thoroughly otherworldly, the orb shivers and cowers in the corner like a specimen from space. NASA, it should be noted, sent plants on early space missions and began experimenting with aeroponics in the late 1990s. One can imagine the possibility of future cosmic plantations, a vision clearly encouraged by Saraceno’s installation.- Based on a text by Erin Rouse –

Sunny Day, Air-Port-City, 2006

tomas saraceno

As an architect Saraceno has for years been looking into the possibility of using large balloon-like constructions to enable the free circulation of persons and goods across the entire globe.

Folding Space

november 1st, 2010

Martijn Hendriks
Gradually, then suddenly (white version), 2009

Martijn Hendriks

Still from a single channel altered video of a 1965 studio performance by Bruce Nauman, 1 min 59 sec

folding space

The existence of wormholes, shortcuts through spacetime, is still hotly debated.  Stephen Hawking gave a lecture touching on the possibility and the implications of traversable wormholes.  In theory, they would allow quick travel in space to even the most remote galaxies (you wouldn’t actually be travelling faster than the speed of light, but you would beat light to your destination, because it had to travel all the way around). More baffling still, they would allow time travel too. Hawking stated that if you could travel from one side of the galaxy to the other in a matter of a week or two, you could return through another wormhole, and be back before you started your journey. The theory only allows travel back in time, and only to the moment of the initial creation of the time machine.  Hawking again: a time machine will be built someday, but has not yet been built, so the tourists from the future cannot reach this far back in time.

– Based on a text by Brooke Ballantyne –

Dark Energy

oktober 31st, 2010

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Gravitational Bending, 2010

Maarten Vanden Eynde gravitational bending

Even weirder than dark matter—the invisible stuff constituting most of the mass of the universe—is dark energy, a mysterious force pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate. Dark energy has been around for most of the history of the cosmos. “Nine billion years ago, dark energy was already wielding its repulsive influence on the universe,” explains Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Adam Riess. But the repulsion didn’t exceed the force of gravity until 5 billion years ago, when cosmic expansion kicked into high gear and began accelerating.

A pioneering space mission called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) delivered the first accurate account of the overall makeup of the universe. The answer is decidedly strange. Dark energy makes up 73 percent of the universe, dark matter another 23 percent. Atomic matter—everything around us and everything astronomers have ever seen—accounts for just 4  percent.

dark energy

Comparing images from the Hubble Space Telescope’s high-end cameras with the WMAP heat signature map of the early universe, Riess and his colleagues retraced the growth history of the universe with unprecedented accuracy and depth. “It’s as if you mark the height of a child against a doorframe to measure growth spurts,” Riess says. For reasons as yet unknown, the antigravitational effects of dark energy are greater now than they were in the distant past. One theory, supported by the Hubble data, is that empty space is impregnated with residual energy from the Big Bang. As space expands, so does dark energy, while matter is spread out, weakening the inward pull of gravity.

Based on a text by Alex Stone

Chu Yun
Constellation, 2006

Chu Yun

Galaxy made out of LED lights from various devices.

Lost Astronaut

oktober 26th, 2010

Alicia Framis
Lost Astronaut, 2009

alicia framis

alicia framis

alicia framis

Turning The World Inside Out

oktober 19th, 2010

Anish Kapoor
Marsupial, 2006

anish kapoor

Anish Kapoor is renowned for his enigmatic sculptural forms that permeate physical and psychological space. Most often, the intention is to engage the viewer, producing awe through their size and simple beauty, evoking mystery through the works’ dark cavities, tactility through their inviting surfaces, and fascination through their reflective facades. Throughout, he has explored what he sees as deep-rooted metaphysical polarities: presence and absence, being and non-being, place and non-place and the solid and the intangible. His most recent works are mirror-like, reflecting or distorting the viewer and surroundings.

Iris, 1998

anish kapoor

Turning the World Inside Out II, 1995

anish kapoor

Dark Matter MACHO

oktober 18th, 2010

gravitational lensing

In general relativity, the presence of matter (energy density) can curve spacetime, and the path of a light ray will be deflected as a result. This process is called gravitational lensing and in many cases can be described in analogy to the deflection of light by (e.g. glass) lenses in optics. Lensing measures all the mass, in particular the dark matter as well as the luminous matter.

There are ongoing searches to use lensing to find a type of dark matter called MACHOs (massive compact halo objects). Although MACHOs, as dark matter, cannot be seen themselves, if they pass in front of a source (e.g. a star nearby), they can cause the star to become brighter for a while, e.g. days or weeks. This effect has been observed but determinations of the dark matter are not yet conclusive.

Based on a text by Joanne Cohn.

dark halo

Artist's impression showing the approximate extent of the dark matter halo 
around a large spiral galaxy such as our own (Credit: Jose Wudka)

dark matter

3D map of the universe's dark matter (Credit: NASA, ESA and R. Massey)

gravitational lensing

Gravitational lensing caused by dark matter (Credit: NASA)

Dennis Feddersen
Dark Matter #02, 2009

dennis feddersen dark matter

The works of Dennis Feddersen truly occupy space. He experiments with different types of materials. Flexibility is one of the most important criteria for his choice of materials, thus emphasizing the possibilities that may arise during the creative process. He constantly adjusts his flexible sculptures in a series of trials: i.e. he reacts to the surrounding architecture and adapts his sculptures accordingly.

Check this illuminating video about dark matter and gravitational lensing.


Dead Matter

oktober 18th, 2010

dead stars

Image: Artist’s impression of a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field,
called a Magnetar (Credit: NASA)

Neutron stars are the cold, dense remnants of massive stars that died in fiery supernova explosions. They tend to have masses similar to the sun, but in diameter they would barely stretch 60km. This extreme density makes neutron stars exceptionally good nets for dark matter. For their size and their temperature, they have the best efficiency in capturing WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Particles up to 100 times smaller than the ones underground experiments are sensitive to could still make a noticeable difference to neutron stars. Hunting for cold stellar corpses near the center of the galaxy or in star clusters could put new limits on the properties of dark matter.

Dark matter and ordinary matter are thought to clump up in some of the same places, like the center of the galaxy or globular clusters of stars. The center of the galaxy is dusty and difficult to observe, and most globular clusters are so far away that a cold, tiny neutron star hiding inside them would be beyond today’s telescopes. The next generation of ultraviolet telescopes could be up to the task.

Astronomer Bob Rutledge of McGill University suggests an alternative approach: Rather than squinting for neutron stars’ dim light, astronomers could find them through ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. When two neutron stars merge, they are expected to throw off massive amounts of these waves, and Earth-based detectors like LIGO are already in place to catch them — although no waves have actually shown up yet.

Based on a text by Lisa Grossman

Katie Paterson
All The Dead Stars, 2009

katie paterson dead stars

A map documenting the locations of just under 27,000 dead stars – all that have been recorded and observed by humankind.

katie paterson dead stars

Katie Paterson’s artistic practice is multi-disciplinary, cross-medium, and conceptually driven, often exploring landscape by means of technology, and connectivity by way of moonlight, melting glaciers, and dead stars.

History of Darkness, 2010

katie paterson history of darkness

History of Darkness is a slide archive; a life-long project, it will eventually contain hundreds upon thousands of images of darkness from different times/places in the history of the Universe, spanning billions of years. Each image handwritten with its distance from earth in light years, and arranged from one to infinity.

katie paterson history of darkness

The Death Star below is a fictional moon-sized space station and superweapon appearing in the Star Wars movies and Expanded Universe.

death star

Dark Matters

oktober 17th, 2010

Dark matter is one of astrophysics’ greatest enigmas. It is thought to be five times more common than visible matter, but there is no proof of what it is made of. Until now, the best evidence for dark matter was that orbital speeds of stars in a galaxy do not fall off with increasing distance from the galaxy’s center, as would seem to be necessary to keep the stars from flying off into space. The fact that the galaxies hold together suggests that unseen mass provides the gravity to hold them together. Some researchers have sought to explain the steady orbital speed with alternative theories of gravity, but it is unlikely that anything other than dark matter can explain the new observations.

Most cosmologists are convinced that the answer lies in physics theory, which predicts the existence of fundamental particles that have not yet been discovered. They are called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs.

dark matter

Dark matter (blue) passed through nearly unaffected after the head-on galactic
collision of 2006, while visible matter (red) slowed down and spread out. High-
energy electrons captured over Antarctica could reveal the presence of a nearby
but mysterious astrophysical object that's bombarding Earth with cosmic rays,
researchers say. Or the electrons may be the long-awaited physical evidence of
elusive dark matter. Either way, the unusual particles are exciting for astro-
physicists, who say they could someday confirm or deny decades of unproven
theories. (Credit: NASA)

A few exotic particles have been suggested as dark matter ingredients; the Kaluza-Klein particle, the Axion and the Neutralino. The most wanted particle however that might account for the missing matter is the Higgs boson particle, also known as the ‘God-particle’. The existence of the particle is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in current theoretical physics, and attempts are being made to confirm the existence of the particle by experimentation, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab.

The Higgs boson is the only Standard Model particle that has not been observed and is thought to be the mediator of mass. Experimental detection of the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass in the universe.

Both deep underground and high in sky scientists are attampting to capture the misterious dark matter particle.

A technique used by the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) detector at the Soudan Mine at Minnesota, US, relies on multiple very cold germanium  and silicon  crystals. The crystals (each about the size of a hockey puck) are cooled to about 50 millikelvins. A layer of metal (aluminium and tungsten) at the surfaces is used to detect a WIMP passing through the crystal.

dark matter detector

One of the hocky-puck-size detectors used in the CDMS experiment.

DRIFT I was built by UK and US scientists to search for dark matter. DRIFT I ran between 2001 and 2004, 1.1 kilometres underground in Yorkshire’s Boulby Mine. It did not detect dark-matter particles, but its powerful successors continue the search.

drift 1 dark matter search

In SNOLAB, a Canadian underground physics laboratory at a depth of 2 km in Sudbury, Ontario, scientists are conducting two experimental programs, LEAP-1 and PICASSO, in order to find the missing WIMPs.

dark matter detector

At the Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research a neutrino physics laboratory located underground in the Mozumi Mine of Hida in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, several studies are being carried out to find a WIMP. The particle detector is a cylindrical tank  which contains 3,000 tons of pure water and has about 1,000 50 cm  diameter photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) attached to the inner surface.

Andreas Gursky
Kamiokande, 2007

andreas gursky kamiokande

In 2016 the deepest research station DUSEL will become operational. The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, or DUSEL  is a major project under consideration by the National Science Foundation. DUSEL will be a series of large laboratories, caverns, and cleanrooms  serving the field of underground science. The main impetus for DUSEL is the study of extremely rare nuclear physics processes, like neutrino scattering and dark matter interactions which can only be studied in the absence of cosmic rays.


(photo: DUSEL)

The Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter (ATIC) is a balloon-borne instrument flying in the stratosphere  over Antarctica to measure the energy and composition of cosmic rays. ATIC was launched from McMurdo Station for the first time in December 2000 and has since completed three successful flights out of four.

dark mater balloon antarctica

The balloon awaits release  from the launch vehicle / T. Gregory Guzik / Nature. 

In 2008 the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope (GLAST) was launched into space in order to look for signs of new laws of physics and what composes the mysterious dark matter. This mision should complement the data coming from the Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA) which was launched in 2006.

By the end of 2010, despite all the efforts, the mystery of the dark matter in the universe remains unsolved.

Glast launch

(Photo: NASA)

The God Particle

oktober 17th, 2010

Alexandra Mir
The Dream and the Promise, 2009

Alexandra Mir

‘Infinite space within an infinite nothingness. Undefinable spirit within unlimited thought. Icons and insatiable quests. Human curiosity has a need for a context within which to exist. Religion was science as science is now religion. The justification of our lust and thrust for the infinite, away from our sensory paradise, comparable to the search for the deepest recesses of our minds, are both ways of seeking the answers to creation, purpose and demise. Religion, as a system of control, has come close to its great rival throughout history – the laws of physics that govern our universe. ‘When will miracles cease?’ – The modes of technology that we produce are ingenious to the children of earth but woefully inadequate adaptations of our unlimited imagination. ‘Why are we here?’ – Spiritual answers are equally unsatisfactory compared to the power of such simple questions. The answer may lie in convergence. Technology may have to wait for the power of the human brain to fully develop its (super)natural abilities. Will the technologies that are then produced be miraculous in that they may not require material substance to work but a faith, a belief in laws of physics so subtle than matter itself cannot withstand their logic? Will they be based in technology so discreet that it will be indistinguishable from the very fabric of the universe and all that is created within it? When we look at science and religion, are we looking at the same technology at different levels of evolution? Is humankind always to be polarised and thus paralysed?’ – Mark Baker –

The Large Hedron Collider

god particle

Photo: Maximilien Brice, CERN

If you were to dig a hole 300 feet straight down from the center of the charming French village of Crozet, you’d pop into a setting that calls to mind the subterranean lair of one of those James Bond villains. A garishly lit tunnel ten feet in diameter curves away into the distance, interrupted every few miles by lofty chambers crammed with heavy steel structures, cables, pipes, wires, magnets, tubes, shafts, catwalks, and enigmatic gizmos.

This technological netherworld is one very big scientific instrument, specifically, a particle accelerator-an atomic peashooter more powerful than any ever built. It’s called the Large Hadron Collider, and its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things.

There’s one puzzle piece in particular that physicists hope to pick out of the debris from the LHC’s high-energy collisions. Some call it the God particle.

The preferred name for the God particle among physicists is the Higgs boson, or the Higgs particle, or simply the Higgs, in honor of the University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence more than 40 years ago. Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it. – Joel Achenbach –

The Controller of the Universe

oktober 14th, 2010

Damián Ortega
Controller of the Universe, 2007

damian ortega controller of the universe

Damián Ortega’s Controller of the Universe, a series of found hand tools suspended in mid air, is a site of danger and otherworldliness. As if in mid explosion emanating from a center, it appears as though a force of nature has frozen them in time and space.

Cosmic Things, 2002

damian ortega cosmic thing

The Scale of The Universe

oktober 12th, 2010

Toril Johannessen
Variable Stars, 2009

Toril Johannessen

Toril Johannessen

At the beginning of the 20th century the estimated size of the universe increased radically.

At that time, an extensive project of photographing and mapping the entire starry sky took place at Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, MA, where catalogue work and mathematical calculations were carried out by a group of women known as The Harvard Computers.

With the introduction of photography to astronomy, the amount of scientific data processed at Harvard College Observatory became immense. Women were considered as accurate and cheap labor to perform the work, and although they had no status as scientific staff, several of them developed theories founded on the work they did. One of these theories was a method to calculate distances in space based on observations of variable stars; stars that vary in brightness over a period of time. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who worked on classification of such stars at the observatory, found a correlation between brightness and period of a particular type of variable stars. Building on her discovery, new theories on the scale and expansion of the universe were introduced, and the scale of the universe as we know it increased by billions of light years.

The work Variable Stars takes Harvard College Observatory’s grand archive of photographic plates as its very tangible vantage point. With the task to collect a sequence of stars visible from her location in Norway, the artist travelled to Cambridge and dug into the archive of photographic plates.

The photographs presented in the installation Variable Stars are printed copies of glass plates taken at Harvard College Observatory, originally taken for Northern catalogue work and for the study of variable stars. They show sections of the sky that are in viewing angle from the window after sunset in the gallery room where the installation were firstly exhibited in Oslo Kunstforening, Oslo, Norway, January 17th 2009.

In each photograph one cepheid or RR Lyrae star is located; two types of variable stars that are used for distance measurements. The stars are cut from the photographic copies and then used as seeds for growing crystals of alum, a substance that is used as a component in photographic paper. The installation on view at Oslo Kunstforening contained of 17 photographs and the corresponding crystals, telescopes at the window and a triptych of pencil drawings.

The Scale of The Universe The Past 100 Years, 2009

Toril Johannessen the scale of the univers

We shall never understand it until we find a way to send up a net and fetch the thing down (Henrietta Swan Leavitt)