From SETI

Asteroids and Celebrities

Asteroids! Planetary scientists have found and mapped about 700,000 of them and some estimate upwards of 150 million asteroids in our solar system. Most of them are in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.

David Bowie has one named after him. Prince does not, though both have songs about being in space. Recently Freddie Mercury was awarded one on his 70th posthumous birthday, which seems a fitting tribute to a star, whose life was cut short by AIDS.

FILE - In this 1985 file photo, singer Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen, performs at a concert in Sydney, Australia. Queen guitarist Brian May says an asteroid in Jupiter's orbit has been named after the band's late frontman Freddie Mercury on what would have been his 70th birthday, it was reported on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. May says the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre has designated an asteroid discovered in 1991, the year of Mercury's death, as "Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury." (AP Photo/Gill Allen, File)

Most asteroids have provisional designations. The full list of human-named asteroids are here. A few pets and fictional characters have even made it onto the list.

I saw this as an opportunity, as part of my SETI Artist-in-Residency to work with asteroid orbital data from JPL, estimated spaceship velocities* and create a new work called Celebrity Asteroid Journeys, which charts imaginary travels from one asteroid to another as silkscreen prints on wood panels.

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I will be presenting the Celebrity Asteroid Journeys as part of my Machine Data Dreams solo show at Black and White Projects. The reception is on Saturday, November 5th, 7-9pm.

Representation is important and the list of asteroids-named-after people is no exception. Even though the majority of the asteroids are named after Western men, I worked to balance as much as possible.

 20161025_165440_webCELEBRITY ASTEROID JOURNEY: SINGERS

And how are asteroids named? According to my research, they are first given a provisional name. Then, when the orbit is determined, it is assigned a sequential number. The discoverer of the asteroid can then request from the International Astronomical Union to give the asteroid a formal name.

*the spaceship speeds do not use true acceleration and deceleration (the math was beyond my skills), but I did work with the best numbers I could find, about 140,000km/hour using a nuclear-electric engine.

Waterjet Etching Tests

For the last several weeks, I have been conducting experiments with etching on the waterjet — a digital fabrication machine that emits a 55,000 psi stream of water, usually used for precision cutting. The site for this activity is Autodesk Pier 9 Creative Workshops. I continue to have access to their amazing fabrication machines, where I work part-time as one of their Shop Staff.

My recent artwork focuses on writing software code that transforms datasets into sculptures and installations, essentially physical data-visualizations. One of my new projects is called Strewn Fields, which is part of my work as an artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute. I am collaborating with the SETI research scientist, Peter Jenniskens, who is a leading expert on meteor showers and meteorite impacts. My artwork will be a series of data-visualizations of meteorite impacts at four different sites around the globe.

While the waterjet is normally used for cutting stiff materials like thick steel, it can etch using lower water pressure rather than pierce the material. OMAX — the company that makes the waterjet that we use at Pier 9 —  does provide a simple etching software package called Intelli-ETCH. The problem is that it will etch the entire surface of the material. This is appropriate for some artwork, such as my Bad Data series, where I wanted to simulate raster lines.

Meth Labs in Albuquerque(Data source: http://www.metromapper.org)

The technique and skills that I apply to my artistic practice is to write custom software that generates specific files for digital fabrication machines: laser-cutters, 3D printers, the waterjet and CNC machines. The look-and-feel is unique, unlike using conventional tools that artists often work with.

For meteorite impacts, I first map data like the pattern below (this is from a 2008 asteroid impact). For these impacts, it doesn’t make sense to etch the entire surface of my material, but rather, just pockets, simulating how a meteorite might hit the earth.

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I could go the route of working with a CAM package and generating paths that work with the OMAX Waterjet. Fusion 360 even offers a pathway to this. However, I am dealing with four different datasets, each with 400-600 data points. It just doesn’t make sense to go from a 2D mapping, into a 3D package, generate 3D tool paths and then back to (essentially) a 2D profiling machine.

So, I worked on generating my own tool paths using Open Frameworks, which outputs simple vector shapes based on the size of data. For the tool paths, I settled on using spirals rather than left-to-right traverses, which spends too much time on the outside of the material, and blows it out. The spirals produce very pleasing results.

My first tests were on some stainless steel scrap and you can see the results here, with the jagged areas where the water eats away at the material, which is the desired effect. I also found that you have to start the etching from the outside of the spiral and then wind towards the inside. If you start from the inside and go out, you get a nipple, like on the middle right of this test, where the water-jet has to essentially “warm-up”. I’m still getting the center divots, but am working to solve this problem.

This was a promising test, as the non-pocketed surface doesn’t get etched at all and the etching is relatively quick.

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I showed this test to other people and received many raised eyebrows of curiosity. I became more diligent in my test samples and produces this etch sample with 8 spirals, with an interior path ranging from 2mm to 9mm to test on a variety of materials.

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I was excited about this material, an acrylic composite that I had leftover from a landscape project. It is 1/2″ thick with green on one side and a semi-translucent white on the other. However, as you can see, the water-jet is too powerful and ends up shattering the edges, which is less than desirable.

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And then I began to survey various stone samples. I began with scavenging some material from Building Resources, which had an assortment of unnamed, cheap tiles and other samples.

Forgive me…I wish I hadn’t sat in the back row of “Rocks for Jocks” in college. Who knew that a couple decades later, I would actually need some knowledge of geology to make artwork?

I began with some harder stone — standard countertop stuff like marble and granite. I liked seeing how the spiral breaks down along the way. But, there is clearly not enough contrast. It just doesn’t look that good.

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I’m not sure what stone this is, but like the marble, it’s a harder stone and doesn’t have much of an aesthetic appeal. The honed look makes it still feel like a countertop.

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I quickly learned that thinner tile samples would be hard to dial in. Working with 1/4″ material like this, often results in blowing out the center.

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But, I was getting somewhere. These patterns started resembling an impact of sorts and certainly express the immense kinetic energy of the waterjet machine, akin to the kinetic energy of a meteorite impact.

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This engineered brick was one of my favorite results from this initial test. You can see the detail on the aggregate inside.

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And I got some weird results. This material, whatever it is, is simple too delicate, kind of like a pumice.

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This is a cement compound of some flavor and for a day, I even thought about pouring my own forms, but that’s too much work, even for me.

 

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I think these two are travertine tile samples and I wish I had more information on them, but alas, that’s what you get when you are looking through the lot. These are in the not-too-hard and not-too-soft zone, just where I want them to be.

 

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I followed up these tests by hitting up several stoneyards and tiling places along the Peninsula (south of San Francisco). This basalt-like material is one of my favorite results, but is probably too porous for accuracy. Still, the fissures that it opens up in the pockets is amazing. Perhaps if I could tame the waterjet further, this would work.

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basalt-more-detailThis rockface/sandstone didn’t fare so well. The various layers shattered, producing unusable results.

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Likewise, this flagstone was a total fail.

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The non-honed quartzite gets very close to what I want, starting to look more like a data-etching. I just need to find one that isn’t so thick. This one will be too heavy to work with.

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Although this color doesn’t do much for me, I do like the results of this limestone.

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Here is a paver, that I got but can’t remember which kind it is. Better notes next time! Anyhow, it clearly is too weak for the water-jet.

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This is a slate. Nice results!

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And a few more, with mixed results.

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And if you are a geologist and have some corrections or additions, feel free to contact me.

Strewn Field Map @ SETI

I’ve been an artist-in-residence at SETIthe Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — for several weeks now. Many think of SETI as people who listen for signals from advanced alien life in the deep desert.

Of course, this isn’t even close to the full story. SETI is also doing amazing work in the field of planetary science: the stuff in our solar system

Why would SETI scientists be playing in our astronomical backyard in the quest for extraterrestrial life? …a couple of reasons:

(1) there is a decent chance of microbial life in our solar system, which certainly counts as “extraterrestrial” life, though not as exciting as an advanced alien species.

(2) if we understand how life began on Earth, then we can apply that knowledge to determine how life might originate on other planets.

Planetary data is ripe with amazing possibilities. My current artistic focus is to write custom software code which translates datasets into physical sculptures and installations. My first foray is meteorite impact data from SETI.

The scientist I am currently working with is Dr. Peter Jenniskens, who is one of the world’s experts on meteors and meteorites. And, as I have discovered, he is also interested in the artistic possibilities.

seti_peter_in_front_of_signThe 2008 TC3 asteroid was discovered on October 6th, 2008, heading right for Earth. Calculations were made to determine its approximate impact, which ended up being in Sudan just 19 hours later. The event was significant — it’s the first time we’ve been able to calculate the location of a “small body” impact with Earth. For all it’s importance, 2008 TC3 deserves a much better name. After all, even Lance Armstrong has an asteroid named after him.

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Dr. Jenniskens was not only near the impact zone the next day, on October 7th but also led an expedition to map and collect the meteorite fragments. He worked with nearly 100 students at the University of Khartoum to find, geolocate and weigh everything they could find.

It is very unusual to be able to get an accurate strewn field map like this. Usually fresh meteorites hit the ocean or areas that are difficult to collect meteorites for various reasons.

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I work at the Creative Workshops at Autodesk, and have access to their 3D printers. I printed out a model of the 2008 TC3 asteroid, at least one possible physical mapping of the asteroid that approximates its shape. Dr. Jenniskens got a gift of plastic that day.seti_peter_with_meteorHe later showed me the fragments of one of the meteorites. The crust has an amazing texture, which looks like baked clay. Inside, it looks like a regular rock, well at least to my untrained eyes.seti_scott_n_meteroitesOnto the datasets! Peter Jenniskens provided me which had the geolocation + mass of 639 meteorites that his team found. It is now my job to do something with this amazing information.

With my Bad Data series, I wrote custom software that translates the datasets into a map of vector shapes which I then cut, etch, mill or work with somehow on a CNC machine — laser-cutter, water-jet, Shopbot, etc.

I applied similar code to this dataset, creating this map. The larger circles correspond to more mass. It even looks like an impact, with the smaller fragments being shed off before the bulk of the extraterrestrial rocks hit our planet.

strewn_field_15scaled_no_notationIt will be a slog of testing with various materials before I get a final result that I’m happy with. I love this part — the back n’ forth playing with data and materials to get a final aesthetic result that is pleasing.

But, I did manage to squeeze out some tests on wood and have this result. It’s promising.

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Joining SETI as an artist-in-residence

The SETI Institute just announced their new cohort of artists-in-residents for 2016 and I couldn’t be happier to be joining this amazing organization for a long-term (up to 2 years!) stint.

This includes a crew of other amazing artists: Dario Robleto (Conceptual Artist, Houston), Rachel Sussman (Photographer, Artist, Writer, New York), George Bolster (Filmmaker, Artist, New York), Jen Bervin (Visual Artist, Writer, Brooklyn), David Neumann (Choreographer, New York). The SETI Air program is spearheaded by Charles Lindsay (artist) and Denise Markonish (curator at MASS MoCA). I first met Charles at ISEA 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico when we were on the same panel around space-related artwork.

On January 13, 2016, at 7pm, in San Francisco’s Millennium Tower, SETI Institute President and CEO Bill Diamond will formally welcome the incoming artists and our new institutional partners, as well as patrons and friends of the program. This event is invitational and seating is limited.

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So, what will I be working on?

Well, this follows on the heels of a number of artwork related to space such as Tweets in Space (in collaboration with Nathaniel Stern), Uncertain LocationBlack Hole Series and Moon v Earth, which were meditations of metaphors of space and potential.

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Roughly speaking, I will be researching, mapping and creating installations of asteroids, meteor and meteorite data and working with scientists such as Peter Jenniskens, who is an expert on meteorite showers. These will be physical data-visualizations — installation, sculptures, etc, which follow my interests in digital fabrication and code with projects such as Water Works.

What specifically fascinates me is the potential between outer space and the earth, is the metaphor of both danger and possibility from above. These range from numerous spiritual interpretations to practical ones such as the extinction of the human race to the possibility that organic material from other planets being carried to our solar system. Despite appearances to the contrary Earth is not only a fragile ecosystem but also once that could easily be transformed from outside.

And already I have begun mapping some meteor showers with my custom 3D software, working with in collaboration with Dr. Jenniskens and a dataset of ~230,000 meteors over Northern California in the last few years. This makes the data-space-geek in me very happy.

Stay subscribed for more.

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And I will heed Carl Sagan’s words: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”