Month: July 2012

Art And Science Collide in New Solar Imaging Technique

July 2 2, 201 2

Image Caption: Left: This image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on June 19, 2010, the image shows the area in the wavelength of 171 Angstroms, which has here been colorized in yellow. Credit: NASA/SDO Right: This visualization, based on the image on the left, uses specific colors to describe which areas on the sun cooled or heated over a 12-hour period. The use of reds and yellows imply that higher temperatures dominated earlier in the time period, while lower temperatures dominated later, meaning that the area showed steady cooling over time, but any heating happened too quickly and impulsively to be measured. The image compares wavelength 211 (which shows material in the 2 million K range) to wavelength 171 (which shows material about ten times cooler). Credit: NASA/Viall

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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

In what can be described as a melding of astronomy and post-Impressionist art, one NASA solar scientist has developed a new technique that uses bright, bold colors to share information about the heating and cooling of various parts of the sun.

Nicholeen Viall of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland innovated this new method, which uses various hues splashed across a yellow background to share information about the 12-hour heat history of the sun, the US space agency announced this week.

Each pixel of her images contain “a wealth of information” about the heat history, which NASA said “holds clues to the mechanisms that drive the temperature and movements of the sun’s atmosphere, or corona.”

“We don’t understand why the corona is so hot,” said Viall, who described the technique itself, as well as her conclusions about the corona, in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal. “The corona is 1,000 times hotter than the sun’s surface, when we would expect it to get cooler as the atmosphere gets further away from the hot sun, the same way the air gets cooler further away from a fire.”

While scientists agree that the roiling magnetic fields of the sun have to transfer energy and heat upwards into the atmosphere, there is still much debate over exactly how that process occurs, the US space agency said. Some say that coronal heating is uniform over a period of time, while others argue that it originates from a number of nanoflares present on the sun’s surface. Viall developed her technique in order to resolve the issue.

To start with, she used high resolution images provided by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s (SDO) Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), which are capable of capturing shots of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, each roughly corresponding to a single temperature of material. By looking at the sun in different wavelengths, she was able to determine how the materials change temperature over time.

Ordinarily, scientists study these types of temperature changes by focusing on the arc-shaped magnetic flux that leap upwards from the sun’s surface. They gather information about those arcs by comparing nearly-simultaneous images of the sun in different wavelengths — a time consuming process that is limited in its focus, and one that is also subject an individual’s judgment and/or bias, NASA explained.

“Viall wanted to look at as much of the solar material in a given area of the corona as she could, incorporating information about a variety of temperatures simultaneously,” the organization said. “She also wanted to avoid the subjective process of subtracting out the background. Instead, she decided to look at all light coming from a given spot on the sun at the same time. That meant coming up with a visualization technique to convey all that information at once — and thus her Van Gogh-like images were born.”

“For an interesting spot on the sun, Viall examines six channels over an entire 12-hour stretch. She compares each channel to the other channels in turn, assigning it a red, orange, or yellow color if the area has cooled, and assigning it a blue or green color if the area has heated up. She assigns the exact shade of the color based on how much time it took for the temperature change to occur,” NASA added.

Viall said that her process essentially measures the time lag that it takes a specific locale to either heat up or cool down. It is completely automated, eliminating the possible human bias in the study of solar areas to study and which to ignore, and all of the material studied and every wavelength is represented statistically, she added.

“Viall’s images show a wealth of reds, oranges, and yellow, meaning that over a 12-hour period the material appear to be cooling,” NASA said. “Obviously there must have been heating in the process as well, since the corona isn’t on a one-way temperature slide down to zero degrees.”

“Any kind of steady heating throughout the corona would have shown up in Viall’s images, so she concludes that the heating must be quick and impulsive — so fast that it doesn’t show up in her images,” they added. “This lends credence to those theories that say numerous nanobursts of energy help heat the corona.”

Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

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SEEDMAGAZINE.COM: The Future of Science…Is Art?

To answer our most fundamental questions, science needs to find a place for the arts.

Fourth Culture / by Jonah Lehrer /

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In the early 1920s, Niels Bohr was struggling to reimagine the structure of matter. Previous generations of physicists had thought the inner space of an atom looked like a miniature solar system with the atomic nucleus as the sun and the whirring electrons as planets in orbit. This was the classical model.

But Bohr had spent time analyzing the radiation emitted by electrons, and he realized that science needed a new metaphor. The behavior of electrons seemed to defy every conventional explanation. As Bohr said, “When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.” Ordinary words couldn’t capture the data.

Bohr had long been fascinated by cubist paintings. As the intellectual historian Arthur Miller notes, he later filled his study with abstract still lifes and enjoyed explaining his interpretation of the art to visitors. For Bohr, the allure of cubism was that it shattered the certainty of the object. The art revealed the fissures in everything, turning the solidity of matter into a surreal blur.

Black Peacock, 1950, ALEXANDER CALDER

This mobile is a powerful example of how an art form can be tailored to the physiology of a specific area in the brain. Calder’s composition anticipated, artistically, the physiological properties of the cells of an area called V5, which are selectively responsive to motion and its direction. Viewed from a distance, the separate pieces of the mobile appear as static spots of varying sizes. But as the pieces move in different directions, each one stimulates only the category of cell that is selectively responsive to the direction in which the spot is moving. —Semir Zeki, Neuroscientist, University College London © Christie’s Images/Corbis


Bohr’s discerning conviction was that the invisible world of the electron was essentially a cubist world. By 1923, de Broglie had already determined that electrons could exist as either particles or waves. What Bohr maintained was that the form they took depended on how you looked at them. Their very nature was a consequence of our observation. This meant that electrons weren’t like little planets at all. Instead, they were like one of Picasso’s deconstructed guitars, a blur of brushstrokes that only made sense once you stared at it. The art that looked so strange was actually telling the truth.

It’s hard to believe that a work of abstract art might have actually affected the history of science. Cubism seems to have nothing in common with modern physics. When we think about the scientific process, a specific vocabulary comes to mind: objectivity, experiments, facts. In the passive tense of the scientific paper, we imagine a perfect reflection of the real world. Paintings can be profound, but they are always pretend.

This view of science as the sole mediator of everything depends upon one unstated assumption: While art cycles with the fashions, scientific knowledge is a linear ascent. The history of science is supposed to obey a simple equation: Time plus data equals understanding. One day, we believe, science will solve everything.

But the trajectory of science has proven to be a little more complicated. The more we know about reality—about its quantum mechanics and neural origins—the more palpable its paradoxes become. As Vladimir Nabokov, the novelist and lepidopterist, once put it, “The greater one’s science, the deeper the sense of mystery.”

Consider, for example, the history of physics. Once upon a time, and more than once, physicists thought they had the universe solved. Some obscure details remained, but the basic structure of the cosmos was understood. Out of this naïveté, relativity theory emerged, fundamentally altering classical notions about the relationship of time and space. Then came Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the surreal revelations of quantum physics. String theorists, in their attempts to reconcile ever widening theoretical gaps, started talking about eleven dimensions. Dark matter still makes no sense. Modern physics knows so much more about the universe, but there is still so much it doesn’t understand. For the first time, some scientists are openly wondering if we, in fact, are incapable of figuring out the cosmos.

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