Turning massive cosmic explosions into art

Posted by er134 at Apr 11, 2013 01:20 PM |
UK artist Dave Griffiths has produced an art installation inspired by University of Leicester astronomers’ discoveries of a gamma ray burst
Turning massive cosmic explosions into art

Here is an image of the art installation which uses the Swift data. The image shows the discovery of Gamma Ray Burst GRB 130313A

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 11 April 2013

Media invite: Reporters and photographers are invited to meet artist Dave Griffiths and University of Leicester astronomer Dr Kim Page at the opening of the Extinction Event exhibition at Leicester’s Phoenix Cinema and Art Centre on Thursday, April 11 from 6pm to 6.30pm

Leicester astronomers’ discovery of a gamma ray burst will feature in an art exhibition opening at Phoenix in Leicester on Friday, April 12.

UK artist Dave Griffiths’ new project is inspired by the work of University of Leicester scientists, who are monitoring data from the Swift space observatory.

Griffiths’ installation is inspired by data visualisations produced by astronomers, which pinpoint the time, location and energy of gamma ray bursts.

The overall exhibition, Extinction Event, will unveil Griffiths’ window vinyl display in the cafebar at Phoenix.

The display features a collection of tiny film fragments arranged in a large-scale graph. Griffiths has captured hundreds of cue-dots, which are the marks used in motion picture film prints, signalling to the projectionist that a particular reel of a movie is ending.

Griffiths spent three days with Professor Julian Osborne and Dr Kim Page at the UK Swift Science Data Centre as part of an artist-in-residence collaboration funded by Manchester Metropolitan University’s MIRIAD Research Institute for Art and Design.

The astronomers use the centre to monitor, interpret, and archive data from Swift - a multi-wavelength space observatory which trawls the sky looking for gamma ray bursts.

Gamma ray bursts are extremely bright, energetic flashes of radiation that are observed in distant galaxies.

They occur during supernovae, when stars many times larger than our Sun explode, or during dead star collisions - often outshining entire galaxies.

Gamma ray bursts are among the brightest events in the observable universe.

Typically lasting tens of milliseconds to tens of seconds, Swift is able to detect gamma ray bursts occurring in the observable universe almost immediately.

It is able to do this thanks to its unique fully automatic response capability and its three innovative on-board instruments – including an X-ray telescope from Penn State University in collaboration with the University of Leicester and the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Italy. The University of Leicester designed and built the X-ray camera for the telescope.

Griffiths witnessed first-hand the team’s discovery of two gamma ray bursts, or GRBs, during the residency from March 13 to 15.

Immediately after each sighting, the Leicester scientists hold a teleconference with Swift astronomers in the USA, UK & Italy to verify the sighting and confirm the existence of each GRB.

The two GRBs were confirmed with the other scientists – and subsequently named GRB 130313A and GRB 130315A. These teleconference recordings and lightbox images of GRB 130313A data feature in the exhibition.

Griffiths was particularly interested by the similarity between the fleeting appearances of cue-dots in film and the momentary gamma ray bursts observed by Swift.

He also plans to produce a larger piece on the gamma ray burst discoveries using micro fiche – an analogue method of data storage developed in the 19th century.

Griffiths, who is based in Manchester, said: “Gamma ray bursts are hugely destructive and creative events – and for me are comparable to life and death situations and other turning points in film storytelling. I have been interested in similarities between astronomy and cinema for the last few years, and I became very excited by the affinities between what I was doing with cue-dots and what the Leicester scientists are doing with gamma ray bursts.

“My experience at the University of Leicester was amazing. Professor Julian Osborne and Dr Kim Page were incredibly patient and happy to explain the finer points of X-ray astronomy. I found it really inspiring and exciting working with them.”

Dr Kim Page, of the UK Swift Science Data Centre, based in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester, said: “It was really interesting to get an artist’s point of view during Griffiths’ residency. We are used to only seeing things from a scientific point of view – so it was good to see the discoveries from his point of view.”

Griffiths’ exhibition also features a screening of Babel Fiche, a film that imagines what future generations might make of us from the amateur video we choose to capture and share.

Babel Fiche was created from a crowd-sourced archive of videos distilled and compressed onto microfiche film, a selection of which will also be on display.

The exhibition runs for six weeks, and the window display will be in place for a year.



For more information please contact:

Dave Griffiths on 07731 831 233 (not for publication) or at: dave_griff@me.com

Website: http://www.davegriffiths.info

Dr Kim Page on +44 (0)116 223 1706 or 07963 990 411 (not for publication) or at: kpa@star.le.ac.uk

More information about the UK Swift Science Data Centre can be found at: http://www.swift.ac.uk/

More information about Griffiths’ exhibition Extinction Event at Leicester’s Phoenix can be found at: http://phoenix.org.uk/index.php?cms_id=756

THE UK SWIFT SCIENCE DATA CENTRE, at the University of Leicester, provides an archive of all Swift data, with open access for the wider UK astronomical community http://www.swift.ac.uk/. Funding for UK Swift activities is provided via the UK Space Agency.


The Swift observatory was launched in November 2004 and was fully operational by January 2005. Swift carries three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope, the X-ray Telescope, and the Ultraviolet/ Optical Telescope. Its flight operations are controlled by Penn State from the Mission Operations Center in State College, Pennsylvania. Swift's gamma-ray detector, the Burst Alert Telescope, provides the rapid initial location and was built primarily by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and constructed at GSFC. Swift's X-Ray Telescope and UV/Optical Telescope were developed and built by international teams led by Penn State and drew heavily on each institution's experience with previous space missions. The X-ray Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Italy. The Ultraviolet/ Optical Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College London. These three telescopes give Swift the ability to do almost immediate follow-up observations of most gamma-ray bursts because Swift can rotate so quickly to point toward the source of the gamma-ray signal. The spacecraft was built by General Dynamics. In the UK Swift is funded by the UK Space Agency.


MIRIAD (Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, Manchester Metropolitan University) offers a supportive environment for research, risk-taking and creativity, and for the application of research to academic, business, community and social spheres.


Phoenix is a multi-screen cinema, digital art gallery and café bar in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Phoenix is a registered charity which aims to bring inspirational film and art to all.

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