As announced earlier, the Science with the Hubble Space Telescope IV conference in March 2014 aims to share the latest results from Hubble across the broad canvas of astronomy, also looking at what will shape the field of astrophysics in the next decade. Alongside this scientific content, there will be an innovative art installation using sound and light entitled Heaven's Carousel.
The Heaven's Carousel will link together music and astronomy in a pioneering way. Conceptualised and designed by German artist and composer Tim Otto Roth, the Carousel will illustrate the accelerating, expanding Universe — a discovery in which Hubble played a significant role — through the medium of light and sound. Taking inspiration from the work of Nobel laureate Adam Riess (STScI) on the expanding Universe, Greek cosmology, and Renaissance astronomers such as Kepler and Galileo, Roth aims to explore how the mechanics of the Universe might sound in the age of modern astronomy.
The Hubble conference will take place at the renowned Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. Roth has designed an ethereal carousel construction for the academy's palm garden, with 36 loudspeakers mounted on strings with a length of up to 7 metres. These strings will hang from a carousel suspended from a crane some 10 metres high. As the carousel rotates and accelerates the strings will become raised at an increasing angle until they all spin above the heads of the visitors, similar to a fairground swing carousel ride.
As the circulating loudspeakers move towards or away from the listener, the sound waves are compressed or expanded and the pitch of the sound becomes higher or lower (depending on the relative velocity of each speaker). Similar visual effects can be observed with the slightly changing colour of rotating double stars or galaxies. This phenomenon — known as the Doppler Effect — depends on the listener’s position, so the conference visitors are invited to move underneath the installation.
Yet another component comes into play as the speakers play not only continuous tones, but also short pulses of sound. Due to the motion and size of the installation and the differing lengths of these sound bursts, this celestial music recomposes differently in space.
"To me, there is an obvious parallel with the Universe around us. The lights in the dark night sky have a strong acoustic component — due to the long distances in space, we see the echoes of worlds which passed away a long time ago," explains Roth. "I wanted to take on the challenge of translating the expansion of the Universe into acoustics."
The Heaven's Carousel is Roth's second sound project using sine waves in space to create an installation synthesising space, time, and sound. In 2012 Roth collaborated with mathematical neuroscientist Benjamin Staude to create the ground-breaking Sonapticon, a system of 43 loudspeakers in the Sound Dome of the Centre for Art and Media ZKM Karlsruhe in Germany that represented a network of acoustic neurons interacting with sine waves in space. It is also Roth's second huge cooperation with Hubble astrophysicists after From the Distant Past, which translated Hubble spectral data into animated laser projections onto prominent façades in Venice, Baltimore, and the heart of New York City. To see more of this art installation, see Hubblecast 63: From the distant past — Hubble and art.
Tim Otto Roth
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