Solar Equation (June 2010)
Solar Equation is a large-scale public art installation that consists of a faithful simulation of the Sun (100 million times smaller than the real thing) that made its debut on June 4, 2010, and will remain live until the 4th of July. Commissioned by Federation Square for the "Light in Winter" Festival in Melbourne, Australia, the piece features the world's largest spherical balloon, custom-manufactured for the project. The giant helium-filled balloon, 46 feet in diameter, displays the turbulence, flares and spots on the solar surface as seen by the SOHO and SDO spacecraft from NASA.
The project uses five projectors, connected to seven computers that run live mathematical equations that simulate the surface of the Sun and animate the balloon: Reaction-Diffusion, Perlin noise, fractal flames and particle systems are overlaid on recent imagery from NASA's solar observatories. This produces a constantly changing display that never repeats itself and gives viewers a glimpse of the majestic phenomena that are observable at the solar surface. Sound is also used to enhance the presence of the artificial sun, as the piece produces rumbles, crackles and bursts also simulated from solar activity.
Lozano-Hemmer's artworks involve large-scale installations in public spaces, using new technologies and custom-made physical interfaces. Using robotics, projections, sound, Internet and mobile phone links, sensors and other devices, his installations aim to provide a thought-provoking interaction of architecture and performance art. It wouldn't be a Rafael piece if "Solar Equation" didn't involve interaction with the public. "Using an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, people may disturb the animations in real-time and select different fluid dynamic visualizations," writes Lozano-Hemmer. The "Solar Equation" app is available for free at the Apple app store and if people without an Apple device can borrow one for free right at Federation Square.
As far as the technical achievements of the piece, Lozano-Hemmer's engineering team had to develop a 3-D tracking system to monitor the position of the balloon, which sways and bobs in the wind. The system tracks the orientation of the balloon 30 times per second, and relays that information back to the projector's servers so that the animation can be instantaneously corrected. The five high-definition projectors, which with an output of 22,000 lumens are some of the most powerful available, are placed orthogonally around and under the balloon; real-time masking and deformation prevents the animation from spilling over on to the surrounding buildings.
'Solar Equation' marks the debut of Lozano-Hemmer's first public installation in Australia. The artist says that "while pertinent environmental questions of global warming, drought, or UV radiation might arise from the contemplation of this piece, Solar Equation intends to likewise evoke romantic environments of ephemerality, mystery and paradox." Like the real Sun, the work can stand for any interpretation that the public brings, whether it's about the power of the universe, a call to use solar energy, a link to traditional symbolism or simply a moving experience.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACTIVITIES: If you use our SOHO images or movies, provide outreach and programs in the area of solar study, and would like to be considered for our Outreach Spotlight section, write to steele.hill[at]gsfc.nasa.gov with a brief overview of your efforts.If we think you'd make a good candidate, we will contact you.