The Three Body Problem and the Appropriation of Images …

Enceladus Geysers, Samuel Nigro Saturn, Samuel NigroThe Sun, Samuel NigroComet Tempel 1 After Projectile Impact, Samuel NigroClouds over Senegal and Mali, Samuel Nigro

At the end of January, I went to the opening of Michael Benson at Hasted Kraeutler, 537 West 24th Street, New York, NY.
The show was a series of large digital prints that he created from the thousands of images sent back to us by probes
we’ve launched into the solar system to answer various scientific questions about the nature
of our planetary neighbors. From the press release, Benson culled the images
taken by “the Cassini Saturn orbiter, the intrepid Mars rovers
Spirit and Opportunity, and the Earth-orbiting
Solar Dynamics Observatory.”

I share Benson’s fascination, and above you’ll find my own culling of his images… You can cull your own set by going to
NASA’s Cassini site, Mars Rover site or the Solar Dynamics Observatory site
or just do a Google Image Search.

I had two over-riding thoughts (beyond the AWE inspired by what lies beyond our own atmosphere)
as I wandered through the show during the opening
and again when I went back for
a second look:

First, I thought of an earlier, and seeming unrelated, lecture I blogged about earlier in Happy Thanksgiving and Gratitude List of 12. Keith Wilson lectured about the collection of Charles Lang Freer’s Buddhist Scultpure from China. He posed the question: At what point does an object of religious devotion become an object of just aesthetic interest? You can ask a similar question about scientific data: at what point, does it become just an object we gaze at for our own aesthetic need?

Second, I have followed the Mars rovers and the Cassini Spacecraft, and I’m not sure how much Benson’s images tell us about what these sophisticated machines have already given us and what their potential is. For example, it is because of the Cassini Spacecraft that we are learning just how incredibly complicated Saturn’s rings are.  There are large masses (as large as and larger than houses and trucks) that move in and out the rings and some of which sweep large portions of the debris and grow and change in size, shape and trajectory.

What the show does do is give us a vision of Michael Benson, and it is heartening to read that he works diligently with scientists as he makes his composite images
so as to be as accurate as possible. So, to Benson’s credit, it feels like he is trying to give us a view as to what it may be like
if we were actually there – floating in front of the Sun, trekking around Mars, or about to sail through Saturn’s rings.
These are things I think about, and find
(in the non-pop-cultural,
non-trivial use
of the term) AWESOME.

Michael Benson and I share the same interest in the line between and the intersection of art and science.

The very next day after the opening, I happened upon the Dynamical Systems Seminar at the Courant Institute by Eugene Gutkin, called The Outer Billiard Map, and I was enthralled by the connection between this and Benson’s show.

WHAT possibly could be the connection between these two experiences!?! you may wonder.
The quick answer is the Three Body Problem.
But, first, I need to explain
what an “Outer Billiard”
problem is.

Imagine billiard balls bouncing around a pool table, hitting each other in a chaotic fashion. The study of Inner Billiards is the study of the physics of this kind of movement. Now, imagine a solid stationary object in the middle of the pool table with billiard balls bouncing around and off of this stationary object. The study of the physics of these kinds of interactions is termed an Outer Billiard problem.

NOW, imagine the stationary object is a large planet or similar galactic object and the billiard balls are satellites or even beams of light… and that is the connection between the gallery show and the seminar. I reveled in the connections.

Billiard Balls flying around a pool table is pretty complicated motion, so to simplify we break it down. The two-body problem (the moon orbiting the earth, for example) is straightforward in terms of classical mechanics and gravity. Add a third body and it gets very complicated, and is, in fact, an old problem that we still only have approximations for. Sir Issac Newton formulated and studied all these issues.

However, we know enough about this motion to not only send spacecraft to various parts of our solar system, but also to infer the existence of other planets (and their sizes!) in remote parts of the galaxy that may even resemble Earth!

This is definitely fun to think about!

Outer Billiard Map_Eugene Gutkin, Samuel Nigro

4 Comments

Filed under Astronomy, Featured ..., Featured Art Space, Math

4 responses to “The Three Body Problem and the Appropriation of Images …

  1. Hey Sam,

    I enjoy your blogsite. Great pics and as usual, very interesting stuff. I know I always mention ancient aliens to ya, but just seems apropo, perhaps I’m just projecting and waiting to be scooped up by the next ufo in sight. Among the many things, in particular, the Gavrinis Tomb, and Puma Punka, I love the history channel. Anyway, In these newest photos, I like how the reflections of yourself and the camera play a nice role in the appropriations, esp when you can then see what is on the wall behind you and the reflection. A great, probably not too coincidental, overlay with the concept of three body problem. You, the work you photograph, and the work behind you in the reflection. It brings to mind the uncertainty principle and the ‘observer effect’ whereby you in fact change the work once you address it, etc. Anyway, hope you are well. -Anthony

    • Hey Anthony! Welcome to my blog … didn’t know you were reading. I love your comments … even the alien-stuff (Ha!). I think this post is related to my posts about optics I wrote in the summer … https://iheartuniquenessiheartinfinity.com/2012/09/02/optics-how-do-lasers-work-_-and-_-riis-why-two-is/

      … still thinking about how we create these awesome machines that can process light in different ways to give us information about the material world and … incredible images … there are a whole host of issues related to epistemology and how we construct scientific knowledge – and I don’t want to loose those questions as I gaze at big digital images of our solar system. Big themes and one of the reasons I created this blog – to hone in on what I am actually interested in and how the contemporary world of sculpture can address them. Will write more about these things in the future…

      Again, good to hear from you…

  2. Pingback: Page not found | i heart uniqueness – i heart infinity

  3. Pingback: Saturn’s Rings … and the stirring of the Unknown | i heart uniqueness – i heart infinity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s