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“Weak Lensing” Helps Astronomers Map the Mass of the Universe

Smithsonian Magazine

In ordinary visible light, this cluster of galaxies doesn’t look like much. There are bigger clusters with larger and more dramatic-looking galaxies in them. But there’s more to this image than galaxies, even in visible light. The gravity from the cluster magnifies and distorts light passing near it, and mapping that distortion reveals something about a substance ordinarily hidden from us: dark matter.

This collection of galaxies is famously called the “Bullet Cluster,” and the dark matter inside it was detected through a method called “weak gravitational lensing.” By tracking distortions in light as it passes through the cluster, astronomers can create a sort of topographical map of the mass in the cluster, where the “hills” are places of strong gravity and “valleys” are places of weak gravity. The reason dark matter—the mysterious substance that makes up most of the mass in the universe—is so hard to study is because it doesn’t emit or absorb light. But it does have gravity, and thus it shows up in a topographical map of this kind.

The Bullet Cluster is one of the best places to see the effects of dark matter, but it’s only one object. Much of the real power of weak gravitational lensing involves looking at thousands or millions of galaxies covering large patches of the sky.

To do that, we need big telescopes capable of mapping the cosmos in detail. One of these is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is under construction in Chile, and should begin operations in 2022 and run until 2032. It’s an ambitious project that will ultimately create a topographical map of the universe.

“[LSST] is going to observe roughly half of the sky over a ten-year period,” says LSST deputy director Beth Willman. The observatory has “a broad range of science goals, from dark energy and weak [gravitational] lensing, to studying the solar system, to studying the Milky Way, to studying how the night sky changes with time.”

Artist’s rendering of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, currently under construction in Chile (Michael Mullen Design, LSST Corporation)

To study the structure of the universe, astronomers employ two basic strategies: going deep, and going wide. The Hubble Space Telescope, for example, is good at going deep: its design lets it look for some of the faintest galaxies in the cosmos. LSST, on the other hand, will go wide.

“The size of the telescope itself isn't remarkable,” says Willman. LSST will be 27 feet in diameter, which puts it in the middle range of existing telescopes. “The unique part of LSST's instrumentation is the field of view of [its] camera that's going to be put on it, which is roughly 40 times the size of the full moon.” By contrast, a normal telescope the same size as LSST would view a patch of the sky less than one-quarter of the moon’s size.

In other words, LSST will combine the kind of big-picture image of the sky you’d get by using a normal digital camera, with the depth of vision provided by a big telescope. The combination will be breathtaking, and it’s all due to the telescope’s unique design.

LSST will employ three large mirrors, where most other large telescopes use two mirrors. (It’s impossible to make lenses as large as astronomers need, so most observatories use mirrors, which can technically be built to any size.) Those mirrors are designed to focus as much light as possible onto the camera, which will be a whopping 63 inches across, with 3.2 billion pixels.

Willman says, “Once it's put together and deployed onto the sky, it will be the largest camera being used for astronomical optical observations.”

While ordinary cameras are designed to recreate the colors and light levels that can be perceived by the human eye, LSST’s camera will “see” five colors. Some of those colors overlap those seen by the retinal cells in our eyes, but they also include light in the infrared and ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

After the Big Bang, the universe was a hot mess—of particles. Soon, that quagmire cooled and expanded to the point where the particles could begin attracting each other, sticking together to form the first stars and galaxies and forming a huge cosmic web. The junctions of which grew into large galaxy clusters, linked by long thin filaments, and separated by mostly-empty voids. At least that’s our best guess, according to computer simulations that show how dark matter should clump together under the pull of gravity.

Weak gravitational lensing turns out to be a really good way to test these simulations. Albert Einstein showed mathematically that gravity affects the path of light, pulling it slightly out of its straight-line motion. In 1919, British astronomer Arthur Eddington and his colleagues successfully measured this effect, in what was the first major triumph for Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The amount light bends depends on the strength of the gravitational field it encounters, which is governed by the source’s mass, size and shape. In cosmic terms, the sun is small and low in mass, so it nudges light by only a small amount. But galaxies have billions and billions of stars, and galaxy clusters like the Bullet Cluster consist of hundreds or thousands of galaxies, along with plenty of hot plasma and extra dark matter holding them all together and the cumulative affect on light can be quite significant. (Fun fact: Einstein didn’t think lensing would actually be useful, since he only thought of it in terms of stars, not galaxies.)

A dark matter map, created by Japanese astronomers using weak lensing (Satoshi Miyazaki, et al.)

Strong gravitational lensing is produced by very massive objects that take up relatively little space; an object with the same mass but spread out over a larger volume will still deflect light, but not as dramatically. That’s weak gravitational lensing—usually just called “weak lensing”—in essence.

Every direction you look in the universe, you see lots of galaxies. The most distant galaxies may be too faint to see, but we still see some of their light filtering through as background light. When that light reaches a closer galaxy or galaxy cluster on its way to Earth, weak lensing will make that light a little brighter. This is a small effect (that’s why we say “weak”, after all), but astronomers can use it to map the mass in the universe.

The 100 billion or so galaxies in the observable universe provide a lot of opportunities for weak lensing, and that’s where observatories like LSST come in. Unlike most other observatories, LSST will survey large patches of the sky in a set pattern, rather than letting individual astronomers dictate where the telescope points. In this way it resembles the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the pioneering observatory that has been a boon to astronomers for nearly 20 years.

A major goal of projects like SDSS and LSST is a census of the galactic population. How many galaxies are out there, and how massive are they? Are they randomly scattered across the sky, or do they fall into patterns? Are the apparent voids real—that is, places with few or no galaxies at all?

The number and distribution of galaxies gives information about the biggest cosmic mysteries. For example, the same computer simulations that describe the cosmic web tell us we should be seeing more small galaxies than show up in our telescopes, and weak lensing can help us find them.

Additionally, mapping galaxies is one guide to dark energy, the name we give the accelerating expansion of the universe. If dark energy has been constant all the time, or if it has different strengths in different places and times, the cosmic web should reflect that. In other words, the topographical map from weak lensing may help us answer one of the biggest questions of all: just what is dark energy?

Finally, weak lensing could help us with the lowest-mass particles we know: neutrinos. These fast-moving particles don’t stick around in galaxies as they form, but they carry away energy and mass as they go. If they take away too much, galaxies don’t grow as big, so weak lensing surveys could help us figure out how much mass neutrinos have

Like SDSS, LSST will release its data to astronomers regardless of whether they’re members of the collaboration, enabling any interested scientist to use it in their research.

“Running the telescope in survey mode, and then getting those extensive high-level calibrated data products out to the entire scientific community are really gonna combine to make LSST be the most productive facility in the history of astronomy,” says Willman. “That's what I'm aiming for anyway.”

The power of astronomy is using interesting ideas—even ones we once thought wouldn’t be useful—in unexpected ways. Weak lensing gives us an indirect way to see invisible or very tiny things. For something called “weak,” weak lensing is a strong ally in our quest to understand the universe.

“Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

By Hannah-Marie Garcia, science writing intern Think back to your early childhood science classes. Was there ever a time you had to watch a plant grow? Your first natural sciences teacher may have used plant growth to explain basic concepts of plant biology. The process is a rewarding learning experience for students to observe their […]

The post “Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists appeared first on Shorelines.

“No More Long Faces”

Smithsonian Magazine

Gawking at the love lives of public figures–from Brangelina to Eliot Spitzer–is something of a national pastime these days, and things weren't much different during the lifetime of celebrated American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

While prolific in depicting the outside world, Homer adamantly refused to reveal his inner landscape to an increasingly curious public throughout his career. Perhaps that is why, nearly a century after his death, we're still interested: Secrecy often suggests something worth concealing.

Homer himself hinted at this sentiment in a 1908 note to a would-be biographer: "I think that it would probably kill me to have such a thing appear–and as the most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public I must decline to give you any particulars in regard to it."

Although Homer remained a bachelor for all of his 74 years, after his death, one of his close friends told biographer Lloyd Goodrich that the artist "had the usual number of love affairs." No conclusive evidence is available about any of these, but a thin trail of emotional clues exists amid Homer's correspondence with friends and family, as well as in his work.

The first such clue comes in a March 1862 letter to his father, Charles Savage Homer. The young Homer is planning to travel to Washington to illustrate Civil War action for Harper's Weekly, and mentions a comment made by his editor: "He thinks (I am) smart and will do well if (I) meet no pretty girls down there, which he thinks I have a weakness for."

Homer spent ten months in France in 1866-7, and had an active social life there, if his vivacious engravings of Parisian dance halls are any indication (see above sketch). For the next five or six years, back in America, he continued to paint generally cheerful, lively scenes, often featuring pretty young women.

"The numerous portrayals of fetching women suggest a longing for feminine company…these scenes may have been this shy man's way of safely bringing women closer," Randall Griffin wrote in his 2006 book Winslow Homer: An American Vision.

Specifically, it seems the painter yearned to be closer to Helena De Kay, an art student and the sister of Homer's friend Charles De Kay. She was the apparent model for several of Homer's works in the early 1870s, until she married the poet and editor Richard Watson Gilder in 1874.

As fine arts scholar Sarah Burns explained in a 2002 article for The Magazine ANTIQUES, Helena De Kay's correspondence shows how Homer may have tried to court her. Homer often asked her to visit his studio, an invitation he rarely extended to anyone, and she is the only painter he ever offered to instruct (though there is no evidence she accepted). In one note, he even compared a photo of her to a Beethoven symphony, "as any remembrance of you will always be."

Perhaps Homer's circa 1872 oil "Portrait of Helena De Kay" reflects his realization that he would likely lose his beloved to Gilder, who began courting her that year. It was an unusual work for Homer's style up to then – a somber, formal portrait, and an uncommissioned one at that.

In the painting, DeKay is seated on a couch in profile, dressed in black and looking down at a closed book in her hands. The indoor setting, presumably Homer's studio, is dark and empty but for a small spot of color on the floor–a discarded and dying rose; a few of its petals scattered nearby.

It is "a very suggestive picture, and unlike any other he painted," says Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., a Homer biographer and retired National Gallery of Art curator. "I'd say she is the most nameable candidate (for a love interest), certainly."

A letter from Homer to De Kay in December 1872 indicates that something had come between them. He asks her to pick up a sketch he had made of her, adding a few cryptic words of reassurance: "I am very jolly, no more long faces. It is not all wrong."

The next year, another of Homer's notes alludes to his feelings by what it omits: "My dear Miss Helena, I have just found your picture. I think it very fine. As a picture I mean, not because, etc."

It is unclear whether Homer ever actually proposed to De Kay, but he painted a picture of a proposal scene in 1872, with the telling title, "Waiting For an Answer," and in 1874 he painted an almost identical scene minus the young suitor ("Girl in an Orchard"), suggesting that the girl's answer had been to send the boy away. Around the same time, he painted several other pictures of "thwarted love," as Burns describes it.

Some scholars think he fell in love again a few years later, when he was around 40 years old. He visited friends in rural Orange County, New York, and painted several pictures of women there. One of them, titled "Shall I Tell Your Fortune?" shows a saucy-looking lass seated barefoot on the grass, holding playing cards in one hand. Her other hand rests palm-up on her hip, and her direct gaze seems to be asking the painter much more than the title suggests.

A similar woman appears in other Homer paintings from the mid to late 1870s, and this may have been the schoolteacher referred to by Homer's grandniece, Lois Homer Graham, in a piece she wrote for the book Prout's Neck Observed decades later: "The year 1874 found all of the Homer sons well established in their careers…Winslow had courted a pretty school teacher, but lost her to his career."

It does seem clear that Homer wanted a major change of scenery and lifestyle rather suddenly at the end of the 1870s. As Cikovsky puts it, "something was stirring in Homer's life, and I think some sort of intimacy gone wrong was part of that."

The artist withdrew from society, moving first to an island off Gloucester, Mass., then the remote fishing village of Cullercoats, England, and finally in 1883 to Prout's Neck, Maine, where he stayed the rest of his life. He developed a reputation as a grumpy recluse, discouraging visitors and turning down most social invitations, although he remained close to his family. His personal life may have suffered, but his professional life flourished in these years, as the seacoast inspired some of his best works.

Interestingly, Homer never attempted to sell the painting of the fortune-telling girl. It was still on an easel in his Prout's Neck studio when he died in 1910.

But before you get too wrapped up in the romance of that idea, keep in mind that alternate theories abound. Homer scholar Philip Beam thinks the mystery woman was no woman at all, but rather a boy modeling as a woman for the "girl-shy" painter.

At least one reviewer has argued that Homer was homosexual, though most art historians now reject the theory. Others, including Beam, think he was simply married to his work.

"To an artist of Homer's caliber much is given, but if he is to put his great gift to its fullest use, much is also demanded. So much that there is little time left to share with a wife," Beam wrote in Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck (1966).

The truth, it seems, remains as stubbornly elusive as the artist himself.

“Great Cold Spot” Discovered on Jupiter

Smithsonian Magazine

When you think of Jupiter, it’s likely you see red—the planet’s iconic Big Red Spot, that is. But it turns out that the gigantic red gyre isn’t the only great spot on Jupiter. As the Associated Press reports, scientists have found another spot on the gas giant: one that’s big, cold, and high up on the planet’s north pole.

The Great Cold Spot, as it’s being called, was spotted, as it were, by researchers using the Very Large Telescope. Located in Chile’s dark, high-altitude Atacama Desert, the telescope array is the world’s most cutting-edge optical instrument and gives scientists a better-than-ever chance to study the night sky.

With the help of that mammoth window to space, they were able to make observations of a previously unknown region at the top of Jupiter. They describe the spot in a new paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The region isn’t a spot per se; it’s weather. Like the Great Red Spot, which is thought to be the product of a massive ongoing storm in Jupiter’s violent, gaseous atmosphere, the Great Cold Spot seems to be a weather system. Like its cousin, it’s really big—nearly 15,000 miles in longitude and 7,500 miles in latitude. That makes it bigger than Earth. And it's extremely cold compared to the rest of the atmosphere.

Scientists have been watching the spot for years without knowing it. When they compared the Very Large Telescope array’s analysis of the planet’s hydrogen—thought to fuel the planet’s crazy weather—with data from NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, they realized that the colder temperatures at the planet’s poles are pretty consistent.

The spot can’t be seen with the human eye. Rather, it’s visible on infrared readings as a kind of dark oval on top of Jupiter’s bright upper atmosphere. Though it seems to have shifted dramatically over the years—and is now thought to have existed since the planet was formed—it’s always in the same spot. That’s because Jupiter’s storms don’t have an actual planetary surface to slow them down.

Scientists can’t see what’s beneath the planet’s swirling, gaseous atmosphere, but their best guess is that it’s nothing like Earth, where all of the gas and dust that formed the planet eventually settled down to into things like land and water. Jupiter hasn’t been that lucky—its vortices appear to get continually fueled by radiation that sucks its surrounding atmosphere into it again and again. And the data collected by researchers suggests that the just-discovered cooler spot exists thanks to energy from Jupiter’s polar auroras.

Now, says the research team in a press release, they’ll look for other features in the upper atmosphere. They’ll have help: NASA’s Juno spacecraft is swirling around the planet as we speak, and researchers could use the orbiter’s data to learn even more about the Great Cold Spot and other storms. Get ready to update your mental map of the gas giant as new data comes in.

“Charro” and “Cowboy” Hermit Crabs

National Museum of Natural History
This post originally appeared on the Department of Invertebrate Zoology’s blog – No Bones - on February 20, 2013. Thank you to the Department of Invertebrate Zoology for allowing us to repost this piece! The Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) is a Smithsonian initiative in the island of Curaçao which...

‘Young Blood’ Transfusions Are Ineffective and Dangerous, FDA Warns

Smithsonian Magazine

Transfusions of blood plasma are used to treat a host of medical conditions, including burns, surgery-induced blood loss, and disorders that prevent a person’s blood from clotting properly. But as Live Science’s Rachael Rettner reports, the Food and Drug Administration has raised the alarm about companies that purport to use blood plasma—specifically the blood of young donors—to combat the effects of aging and several severe ailments.

In a harshly worded statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called out “unscrupulous actors” who claim that infusions of “young blood” can treat conditions ranging from “normal aging and memory loss to serious diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions,” Gottlieb said, “and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product.”

Plasma is the vital blood component that carries nutrients, hormones and proteins throughout the body. Donations of this vital liquid are sometimes called the “gift of life” because of plasma’s critical use in the medical field. But even in approved contexts, there are risks that come with blood transfusions, including circulatory overload, allergic reactions and, less commonly, the transmission of infections. According to Gottlieb, young blood infusions are particularly dangerous because they involve the transmission of large volumes of blood, which in turn heightens the risk of adverse side effects.

In addition to their potential dangers, young blood infusions don’t seem to work. As Gizmodo’s Ed Cara points out, clinical trials have investigated whether blood from young donors can be helpful in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But to date, Gottlieb says, “there is no compelling clinical evidence on its efficacy, nor is there information on appropriate dosing for treatment of the conditions for which these products are being advertised.”

The FDA didn’t mention any companies by name, but one that has been drawing attention of late is Ambrosia Health, a San Francisco start-up founded by Stanford Medical School graduate Jesse Karmazin. According to Vox’s Chavie Lieber, the company has locations across the United States, and charges $8,000 for a liter of blood drawn from people between the ages 16 and 25. In the wake of the FDA’s caution, Ambrosia announced that it has “ceased patient treatments.”

The thinking behind young blood transfusions stems from a somewhat gruesome experiment conducted in the 1950s, when a Cornell researcher connected the circulatory systems of a young and old mouse, according to New Scientist’s Helen Thomson. The scientist, Clive McCay, found that the old mouse’s cartilage subsequently looked younger than would be expected. More recent research has found that blood from young mice seems to rejuvenate the skeletal stem cells and livers of older mice, and even reverse heart decline in aging mice.

But some researchers involved in this research say that their studies do not lend support to the use of young blood infusions in humans. Irina Conboy, a University of California, Berkeley scientist involved in a 2005 study, told Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin that the positive effects she and her colleagues observed could stem from the fact that the mice were sharing not only blood, but also internal organs.

“When old and young mice are sutured together they share organs too — including their kidneys and all the important filtering organs,” Conboy said. “Imagine you had a new liver. You’d probably see benefits too.”

Interpreting the mice studies as a basis for human young blood infusions, Conboy added, is both incorrect and dangerous. Such transfusions, she told Brodwin, “quite likely could inflict bodily harm.”

‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ Opens in Chicago to Eager Fans

Smithsonian Magazine

On Saturday, April 27, hundreds of fans waiting in line for the opening of "Hamilton: The Exhibition" received a special surprise: The man behind the hit Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, appeared on the scene with donuts in hand, ready to reward the so-called "Hamilfans" who had braved the dismal Chicago weather with sweet treats and selfies.

As Michael Paulson reports for The New York Times, a specially constructed 35,000-square-foot structure on Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline is the first locale to host an immersive, surprisingly educational exhibition on "Hamilton." Dubbed "Hamilton: The Exhibition," the show features an in-depth look at the eponymous Founding Father’s life, correcting historical inaccuracies seen in the musical while simultaneously fleshing out events and themes raised by Miranda’s Tony Award-winning creation.

Catering to the musical enthusiasts sure to flock to the space, the exhibit also includes an audio guide narrated by Miranda and original cast members Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson, a reworked instrumental version of the soundtrack recorded by a 27-piece band, and 3-D footage of Miranda leading the Washington, D.C. cast in a performance of the musical’s opening number.

Amazingly, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" cost $1 million more to launch than its Broadway predecessor. Built to travel (at least with the aid of 80 moving trucks), the show carries a hefty price tag of $13.5 million, as opposed to the musical’s $12.5 million—a fact that may account for its high admission rates, which stand at $39.50 for adults and $25 for children. Although the exhibit’s Chicago run currently has no fixed end-date, Jeffrey Seller, the musical's lead producer and the individual in charge of this latest venture, tells Paulson it will likely stay in the Windy City for several months before moving on to cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson, Miranda, who served as an artistic advisor for the exhibition, describes the show as a “choose-your-own-adventure” experience. Those hoping to delve into the details of the Revolutionary War, federalism and early 19th-century fiscal policy will want to pay attention to wall text and audio narration, while those more interested in the musical will enjoy interactive visuals, games and set pieces crafted by exhibit designer David Korins.

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Miriam Di Nunzio highlights several of the exhibition’s 18 galleries: There’s the “Schuyler Mansion” ballroom, dominated by bronze statues of Alexander Hamilton, the Schuyler sisters, and George and Martha Washington, and a recreation of the Battle of Yorktown that Seller, in an interview with the Sun-Times’ Mary Houlihan, likens to “a giant [animated] Risk board.” Also of note are a “Hurricane” room centered on Hamilton’s youth in St. Croix, a gallery dedicated to Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to ensure her husband’s legacy following his death in 1804, and a “Duel” space featuring life-size statues of Hamilton and Aaron Burr with their pistols raised.

In essence, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" strives to fill the historical gaps left by its namesake musical.

“I couldn't even fit Ben Franklin in my show,” Miranda tells the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Bellware. “I couldn't get the state of Pennsylvania in. But here, we can do a deeper dive on slavery in the north and the south. We can talk about Native American contributions, [and] we can talk about women in the war effort.”

As Bellware observes, one such nod to these hidden histories is a statue of an enslaved woman standing at the edge of the Schuyler ballroom. Rather than providing a cursory overview of slavery in colonial America, the accompanying audio narration urges visitors to consider the figure as an individual, asking, “Where was she from? Who did she love? What were her dreams?”

Focusing on Hamilton specifically, The New York Times’ Jacobs points toward an unassuming sign clarifying the “ten-dollar Founding Father without a father”’s stance on slavery: Although the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” finds Eliza stating, “I speak out against slavery / You could have done so much more if you / only had— / Time,” the exhibit notes, “The real Hamilton wasn’t an abolitionist, but he did oppose slavery.”

It’s worth noting that "Hamilton: The Exhibition" has its flaws: For the Chicago Tribune, Johnson notes that the show features a cast of reproductions, as the warehouse’s climate has yet to prove stable enough to house actual artifacts, and argues that it too often relies on heavy blocks of text to convey the history behind the musical’s catchy tunes. Still, Johnson concludes, these are just “quibbles.” Overall, “there are a thousand choices on display in this exhibition, and almost all of them at least satisfy, while a great number go beyond that to surprise and delight.”

In the words of "Hamilton"’s King George III—the musical's resident source of comic relief—you’ll be back.

“An American Slave:� The Narrative of Frederick Douglass on the 200th Anniversary of his Birth

Smithsonian Libraries
February 14th, 2018 marks the 200th birthday (observed) of Frederick Douglass. Interested in contributing to his legacy? Join the Transcribe-a-thon organized by Colored Conventions and the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Autobiographies more »

whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir

Smithsonian American Art Museum
The core of the Rufus Corporation’s “expedition to unravel utopian promise” would become this digital cinema installation whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoic. It is an experimental film composed from two screens: one reflecting the “movie” and one depicting the computer program behind the movie. In making the film, the collective traveled between Moscow and the Caspian Sea, compiling a cinematic record of the landscape, environment, and architecture while filming in local cafes, apartment blocks, and industrial plants. An audio/visual library comprised of 3,000 film clips, 80 voice-overs, and 150 pieces of music forms the basis of an improvised film noir.

A non-linear narrative unfolds through the observations and surveillance of the central protagonist, Holz, who finds himself living in a dystopian futuropolis. Further provoking cinematic form, the film’s presentation is edited in real time by a custom-programmed computer that Sussman has labeled the “serendipity machine.” The artwork is driven by key words that appear on the secondary screen and delivers a changing narrative that runs indefinitely, never playing the same sequence twice. The unexpected juxtapositions of voice, image, and sound create a sense of unyielding suspense that continuously divorces the protagonist from the full course of his own narrative.

Watch This!: Revelations in Media Art, 2015

telescope base and mount

National Museum of American History
This 5-inch equatorial refractor (numbered 860) is one of eight identical telescopes (numbered 856-863) that Alvan Clark & Sons made for the United States Transit of Venus Commission for the 1874 transit of Venus across the face of the Suns. It was also used to observe another transit of Venus in 1882. In 1886, the equipment used for these observations was given to the U.S. Naval Observatory, which loaned it out to astronomers. Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906), Director of the Allegheny Observatory, borrowed this telescope to observe the total eclipse of the sun from Pike's Peak, Colorado in 1878. Later, while serving as the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, he borrowed it again to observe a total solar eclipse from Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1900. Note that this catalog number refers to the telescope base and mount. Ref: Deborah J. Warner and Robert B. Ariail, Alvan Clark & Sons: Artists in Optics (Richmond, 1995). Samuel P. Langley, "Report of Professor S. P. Langley," Astronomical and Meteorological Observations, made during the year 1876, U.S. Naval Observatory, Part II (Washington, 1880), p. 203-210. Samuel P. Langley, The 1900 Solar Eclipse Expedition of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1904).

swissair [A310] [no text]

National Air and Space Museum
Full-poster photograph of swissair airplane (Airbus A310-221, registration number HB-IPD, "Solothurn," in service with Swissair from 1983-1995) flying over snow-covered mountains; Offset Photolithograph.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

swissair [747] [no text]

National Air and Space Museum
Photograph of Swissair airplane (Boeing 747-357) flying over snow-capped mountains; Offset Photolithograph.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

photometer

National Museum of American History
With a wedge photometer, a small lamp projects an “artificial star” onto a piece of glass, so it could be compared with the star under observation. In use, a wedge of glass was slid in front of the lamp, gradually dimming the light until the two images appeared the same. Charles Pritchard, Savilian professor of astronomy at the University of Oxford, devised the form. Edward C. Pickering, professor of astronomy at Harvard, introduced it to the United States. This example, which came from Princeton University, was apparently made according to Pickering’s design. It may be the one that William Maxwell Reed brought from Harvard to Princeton in 1901, attached to the 23-inch refracting telescope, and used to measure the brightness of variable stars.

Ref: S. P. Langley, C. A. Young, and E. C. Pickering, “Pritchard’s Wedge Photometer,” Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 11 (1888): 301-325.

observation tube

National Museum of American History

notebook

National Museum of American History
This notebook was kept by Amasa Holcomb (1787-1875), a self-educated surveyor and telescope maker. It contains notes of observations, records of telescopes made and sold, and some notes and formulas pertaining to the construction of instruments. Two descendants, Grace E. Holcomb Steere and Eva C. Holcombe Storey, gave it to the Smithsonian in 1933. Ref: Autobiographical sketch of Amasa Holcomb, in Robert P. Multhauf, ed., "Holcomb, Fitz, and Peate: Three 19th Century American Telescope Makers," United States National Museum Bulletin 228 (1962), pp. 160-164.

left to right: Harold Clayton Urey (1893-1981), Lyle H.B. Peer (1898-1987), and Frieda Daum Urey (1898-1992)

Smithsonian Institution Archives
left to right: Physical chemist Harold Clayton Urey (1893-1981), General Electric Company scientist Lyle H.B. Peer (1898-1987), and Frieda Daum Urey (1898-1992) observe a demonstration of "The Electromagnetic Levitator" given by Peer at the National Academy of Sciences spring meeting, May 1939, Washington, D.C. The aluminum dish was made to float freely in the air by magnetic waves from the coils beneath. The photograph was captioned "It Floats in the Air.

interior of observation car of train

National Museum of American History

equitorial armillary sphere (replica)

National Museum of American History
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was a Danish nobleman who, having been given access to the island of Hven, established an amazing research facility, designed and produced several large and precise (but pre-telescopic) instruments, and proceeded to observe stars, planets and other astronomical objects. This is a reproduction of his large equatorial armillary sphere. It was made in the early 1960s, for display in the new National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History). Ref: Hans Raeder, Elis Stromgren and Bengt Stromgren, Tycho Brahe’s Description of His Instruments and Scientific Work as Given in Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (Wandesburgi, 1598) (Copenhagen, 1946), p. 60.

de Havilland DH-4B airplane

National Postal Museum
On long-term loan from the National Air and Space Museum, the de Havilland DH-4B on view at the National Postal Museum is the airplane most commonly associated with the early U.S. airmail service. Geoffrey de Havilland, a British aircraft designer, created the airplane for England and the U.S. to use during World War I.

In 1918 the Post Office Department requested 100 de Havilland airplanes from the U.S. Army. Although the airplanes' range (350 miles) and load capacity (500 pounds) were good, de Havillands were not suited for the rigors and demands of airmail service, having been built for high-altitude military observation use. The most precarious design flaw was the placement of the cockpit. Pilots were too easily trapped between the engine and the mail compartment in accidents where minor crashes turned deadly, burning entangled pilots alive. The airplanes quickly gained a macabre nickname—flaming coffins.

The planes underwent an extensive renovation in January 1919. Designers moved the cockpit to the rear and rimmed it with padded leather for cushion in rough landings. They extended the exhaust stacks beyond the cockpit, so pilots would no longer be blinded by exhaust fumes. To make the airplanes more durable, designers replaced the linen fabric fuselage plywood sheets over wood struts, repositioned the landing gear and installed larger wheels.

The retrofitted de Havillands became known as the “workhorse of the airmail service.” In their first year of service, the airplanes carried more than 775 million letters. The de Havillands retired from airmail service in 1926 when the Post Office Department began to contract with private carriers to carry the mail by air.

bowl, tea; saucer

National Museum of American History
MARKS: Crossed swords in underglaze blue and “13” in gold (gold painter’s number).

PURCHASED FROM: Julius Carlebach, New York, 1944.

This pair of tea bowls and saucers is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of European Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

The tea bowls and saucers form part of a richly decorated tea service with the tea caddy (ID number 1982.0796.08). Elaborate leaf and strapwork (Laub- und Bandelwerk)frames contain overglaze enamel painted Kauffahrtei scenes in which merchants of European and foreign origin conduct business, direct the handling of cargo, and observe shipping activity offshore.

Sources for harbor scenes came from the large number of prints after paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters of the seventeenth century that formed a major part of Meissen’s output from the early 1720s until the 1750s. The Meissen manufactory accumulated folios of prints, about six to twelve in a set, as well as illustrated books and individual prints after the work of many European artists, especially the work of Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Jan van de Velde (1593-1641), and Johann Wilhelm Baur (d.1640). Many of these harbor and waterside scenes were imaginary, and paintings of existing locations were often altered by the artist. Meissen painters were encouraged to use their imagination in enamel painting using the prints as a guide. Printed images enriched people’s lives and a series of prints might take the viewer on a journey, real or imaginary. Prints performed a role in European visual culture later extended by photography and film, and they provided artisans and artists with images, motifs, and patterns applied in many branches of the applied arts.

The Meissen manufactory operated under a system of division of labor. Enamel painters specializing in landscapes, harbor, and river scenes with staffage (figures and animals) were paid more than those who painted flowers, fruits and underglaze blue patterns. Most painters received pay by the piece rather than a regular wage or salary. Decorative scrollwork was the responsibility of another painter specializing in this form of decoration.

Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and the equipage for these hot beverages, made in silver and new ceramic materials like Meissen’s red stoneware and porcelain, was affordable only to the aristocratic and business elites of European society.

On graphic sources for Meissen’s painters see Möller, K. A., “’…fine copper pieces for the factory…’ Meissen Pieces Based on graphic originals” in Pietsch, U., Banz, C., 2010, Triumph of the Blue Swords: Meissen Porcelain for Aristocracy and Bourgoisie 1710-1815, pp. 84-93.

On Dutch prints see Goddard, S.H., 1984, Sets and Series: Scenes from the Low Countries; Schloss, C. S., 1982, Travel, Trade, and Temptation: The Dutch Italianate Harbor Scene.

On the painting division at Meissen see Rückert, R., 1990, Biographische Daten der Meissener Manufakturisten des 18. Jahrhunderts, pp. 134-136.

On tea, coffee, and chocolate equipage see Bowman, P.B., 1995, In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee and Tea-drinking 1600-1850

Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection, pp. 116-117.

airJamaica Soaring to New Heights

National Air and Space Museum
Offset photolithograph of full-color photo collage of Jamaica's attractions including Jamaicans young and old, scenes of beach and inland. Flight attendant and airJamaica "Spirit of Jamaica" airplane (Airbus A321) in foreground.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.

[Weaving #102], [1860 - ca. 1900]. [graphic]

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Title devised by Henry and Nancy Rosin.

102 is printed in both English and Japanese in lower left corner.

According to Henry Rosin, this print is part of Baron von Stillfried's third series, which include numbered as well as colored prints.

Suzuki Shin'ichi learned photography in Yokohama under the pioneering photographer Shimooka Renjo (1823 - 1914). In the early1870s, Suzuki produced a series of depictions of Japanese rural life which were reproduced in "The Far East." In 1889 Suzuki was commissioned with Maruki Riyō (1854-1923) to photograph the Meiji Emperor and Empress.

Three women are busy weaving while a man observes their progress. Indoor studio setting.

Photographer unidentified.

鈴木 真一

[Unknown: One of a set of four prints of balloons. Observers with car and bicycle watch ascent.]

National Air and Space Museum
Colored etching of a balloon ascent. One of a set of four prints of various balloons. Observers on the ground with a car, bicycle, and tent.

"Bilverti dip. Ediz P.V. Franco Rainaldi inc."

[Totem poles at Old Kasaan village, southeastern Alaska] 1885

National Anthropological Archives
Poles in foreground show the crests of Chief Skowl, identified as Raven stealing the sun; Raven putting back his beak after having lost it on the hook of the Halibut Fisherman; Grizzly Bear and the young woman or the cubs. Reproduced in T.T. Waterman, "Observations among the Ancient Indian Monuments of Southeastern Alaska," Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 74, No. 5, 1923 (SI-EFW for 1922) fig. 118; and in Marius Barbeau, "Totem Poles," National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119, 1950, Vol. 2, p. 574.
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