|Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Cloud Prototype No. 1 (2001), fiberglass and titanium alloy foil|
The schema of extreme polarities in size reminded me of the two scientific images—an image of a cell and of an exploding star—I found so striking when thinking about impossible images. In many ways science works with scales that stretch the limits of the imaginable, or by using mathematics and data as forms of abstraction to manage the quantitatively big or the inconceivably small.
But conceiving scale concretely, as a visual image, can matter a lot in social ways. The first images of the earth from space created a point of view that had not existed before the 1960s, even though they described a concept that had been comprehended for centuries—a post-Copernican universe, in which the Earth is a planet among others. But those images entered the collective social imaginary instantly and viscerally, as something quantitatively new. In an odd way, the Apollo photographs didn’t de-centre the Earth into a universe wider than we can imagine so much as re-center it for our vision. By placing the whole Earth in the center of the frame of television images beamed to one of the first global audiences, those photographs let us see the planet in an entirety new way: as an entity. Many descriptions of these images invoke a sense of the fragility of the Earth, and they have been credited with contributing to a ecological consciousness.
For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light - our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.
The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.
It looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart.
What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that man set foot on the Moon but that they set eye on the earth.
Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.
|Lunar Orbiter 1, first view of the earth from the moon, 23 Aug 1966|
|Apollo 17 Crew, “Blue Marble,” first photograph of the earth in full view, 7 Dec 1972|
It strikes me that these kinds of visualizations are an important part of what 'art' offers to science. The material presence of the image—its texture, its luminosity—can translate the implications of a discovery with another kind of intensity. The slider in the animated graph performs a similar, if less sublime function, because it situates the human body in the center of a universe that vastly exceeds bodily scale. Moving up and down the graphic, you start to get a sense of a relation between the big and the small that makes the human scale—which is, after all, the necessary scale of our perception—seem like only a necessary fiction. And this perhaps offers the non-scientist a point of entry into the abstract scales of sciences.