If we look back for centuries, we can find instances where people blended science with art to create new and imaginative creations. One such renaissance man was Leonardo di Vinci. Most famously, di Vinci did this with his Vitruvian Man, the world-famous sketch that displayed di Vinci’s grasp of anatomy and the arts.
Another famous scientist and artist was John James Audubon. Audubon combined his mastery of art with his love and admiration for the wilderness and birds. Audubon developed detailed pictures and paintings of North American birds.
The list goes on and on. Today, the process for blending art and science is a bit different, but remains just as important as ever.
Now students, with a few keystrokes on their computer can try their own hand at mixing science with art by controlling small telescopes that take pictures of planets, stars, galaxies, asteroids, nebulas and other astronomical objects. They can then use those images to create their own artistic renditions of the cosmos through the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network, a group of five automated telescopes controlled online.
Users can control field of view, exposure time, and a filter for those telescopes and take pictures of certain targets up at night, including Jupiter and other planets, moons, asteroids and the Milky Way. The pictures are e-mailed to users within 24 to 48 hours. With free downloadable software, users can then process and enhance those images in a number of ways to create astronomical artwork.
“The sky belongs to everyone,” said Mary Dussault, a science education program manager at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Boston, and a presenter at a recent online conference for educators about classroom applications of the micro observatory program. “One of the nice things about having a telescope of your own online to use at any time is that you start to develop a relationship with the sky that I imagine people have always had in the past. It’s neat to develop that relationship through technology.”
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics controls the three-feet tall telescopes located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Amado, Arizona. The telescopes use six-inch mirrors to capture light from distant objects in space.Lindsay Bartholomew, a science curator at the Miami Science Museum in Florida, said high school students at the museum used the program can deepen their learning about astronomy and art. She broke her program into three different days. On the first day, the students became familiar with how to use the software to enhance images that were already on file at the micro observatory’s database. After that, students then requested their own images from the observatory that were e-mailed to them the following day. On day two, the students experimented with their images, enhancing them using the software. On the third day, they presented their artwork to museum visitors.
“One of the main things I found really fun in watching students participating in this program was this connection between science, arts, and creativity,” Bartholomew said. “Kids don’t see science as having a lot of creative and artistic aspects to it.”
In creating their images, students made all sorts of connections to science, Bartholomew said. For example, they learned about different astronomical objects, how far they are from Earth and their structure. They also learned about how such objects can be viewed. And in those conversations, students talked about optics, mirrors, the nature of light, color, and wavelength. They even learned some math concepts when deciding how to rearrange their images with the software.