Friday, 24 July 2009

The Universe is a dome ...

... And the Moon's a balloon.

While researching some work I've been exploring the Google Earth app, which is helping me think about stuff. Recently they added maps of the ocean floor, Mars and the Universe. I was intrigued by the Universe map, and how Google Earth would interpret this. After "flying" around for a while I noticed this:

I thought at first it was an odd cluster of stars, but it looked too neat, too precise. Note that you can see the facets that make up part of the rest of the Universe in the above picture.

The Universe "model" is actually a (relatively) enormous polygonal dome (or two domes forming a sphere), with images of aspects of the Universe laminated onto it. What these images show is the point on the dome where the textures converge. The nadir, I guess.

We can go a little closer in, until it becomes a beautiful, noisy explosion of picture-shards.

The whole Universe/dome thing made me think of the Flammarion Woodcut:

I started wondering what lies "outside" this representation of the Universe, and all I could think of was data without end. The pilgrim looking beyond the veil in the Flammarion print represents a looking beyond preconceived notions of the known Universe and also beyond representations of the Universe. I think with digital technology we also can look beyond the representation until we spy the workings underneath it all, even if they are entirely conceptual. I mean, you need to take a conceptual break looking at the stars to not consider them part of a dome as we are trained to see them this way after living all our lives on a sphere-like object.
Google Earth does an excellent job of serving up the harvested data of the Universe in an easily navigable and accessible way. I reckon it will only be a matter of time before technology can gather actual 3D representations of the Universe, piece by piece. Maybe.

With apologies to David Niven.