TDDE 131 Week 6: Imaging

[Critiques of Last Week’s Assignment]
[Astronomical Image Making]
[Aesthetic and Social Interpretation of Images]
[Assignment for Next Week]

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PP’s First Installation: Solar Variations

Project Planetaria had its first installation in September 2012 with “Solar Variations”, an exploration of the variability of the Sun though light and sound.  The piece was on display during the opening of the new Experimental Media Lab in UCSD’s Visual Arts Department.

In this interactive video and sound installation, we explore themes we have been investigating over the past several months, including transsensory perception, participatory experience, remote perspective, and live performance.  The piece was comprised of several interacting components:

  • Two photodiode sensors were placed on the west-facing window of the Lab, with red and blue filters positioned in front of them.  These diodes drove square-wave generators attached to speakers, producing dissonant sounds with differing frequencies. As the sun set and its color move toward the red end of the visible electromagnetic spectrum due to refraction, the sound produced shifted in tone and volume: an audio representation of the setting sun.
  • A repeating loop of the previous month of UV imaging data of the Sun taken with the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was generated using the free java program JHelioviewer.  The Sun makes one rotation every 24 (equator) to 34 (poles) days, so this cycle represented roughly one “day” of the Sun.  UV radiation is invisible to our eyes, so the visualization of the SDO data is one example of sensory transformation.  The movie was also embedded in a “sunset” scene from the surface of Mars taken by the NASA Rover Spirit in 2005; as such the audience simultaneously experienced sunsets on two worlds.
  • The television screen output was masked by an black overlay whose transparency depended on the ambient noise in the room.  Hence, the real-time setting of the actual Sun erases the appearance of the SDO UV Solar movie.
  • Naturally, any sound from observers of this piece would also reveal the UV Solar movie, so audience members were encouraged to bring the movie into being by talking, yelling, clapping, etc. after the real Sun had set.  They themselves were also embedded in the movie through a camera with a difference image filter.


The overall result was a participatory experience which embodied video and audio interaction between observer and herself, the Sun and itself, and the observer and the Sun.

This exercise represents our first exploration of the themes that arise in direct interaction and interpretation of astronomical phenomena and data. We expanded upon many of these themes with student designers in our Spring 2013 workshop class.


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