Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Work of Art

The Hale Telescope's 200-inch, 14.5-ton Pyrex mirror has been described by some as a work of art. It took the Corning Glass Works years to perfect the casting process and to come up with the correct mixture of ingredients for the glass. Once it was cast it took nearly 11 months properly to cool the molten glass. It was ground and polished at Caltech where it spent 11 and 1/2 years in the optical shop. It required still more work to integrate it into its support system after it got to Palomar and installed into the telescope.

The mirror is a blend of art, engineering and science. And now it has inspired art. Glass artist Mark Peiser has created this piece based on the 200-inch mirror:

Here is what he says about the mirror and his art:
The Palomar Mirror, the largest single glass casting achieved in its time, allowed humanity to look further into the universe than ever before, bringing us closer to an understanding of our existence than any previous astronomical achievement.

By allowing for the development of astrophysical theories of outer space, the mirror itself would give structure and form to the unknown void—it would transform the negative into positive space. At the time, many worried that this transformation would reveal too much, that seeing closer to the origin of time would devalue the human experience, taking mystery away from the cosmos.

And yet, the more we see the more we wonder. The further we explore, the less we feel we know. Yes, the mirror has allowed us to see the rainbow of colors in the stars, to explore island universes, to learn of black holes and dark matter, but this has not led to simplified understanding. Rather, we have seen enough to begin to pose new questions.

Positive space, the known, is a structure from which we can begin to imagine the unknown safely. The negative space, the void, is the place of our dreams, our imagination and adventures. And it is the union of both which adds beauty, awe and mystery to all things.

Sanctuary, (Section 1, Detail 2), an interpretation of the original mirror at 1/2 scale, seeks to capture the mirror in the moment of its agency---the moment the unknown becomes known. As the astronomers say the first time a telescope is used, “At first light.”

The design of the Palomar Disk was defined by physics. The negative space of its structure creates an environment revealing the physics of light. As a glassmaker, I strive to realize such spaces. And as an individual, I seek them as a sanctuary.
This series is intended as an acknowledgment and tribute to all those who have overcome the boundaries of this seductive and unforgiving material.

I think that there may be more coming from this project. I am looking forward to seeing it.

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