At Futuresonic 2009, the visitors to the opening gala performance on 13 May 2009 were treated to a very special project co-commissioned and co-ordinated by the festival and the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory. In the picture on the left you can see Teresa Anderson introducing Touch the Stars – a collaboration of the musician Mark Pilkington and astrophysicist Tim O’Brien, to mark the International Year of Astronomy and the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon landings. As the short description of the project tells us, “in space nobody can hear you scream, but that doesn’t mean it is totally quiet“. And although the sound in this YouTube extract leaves a lot to be desired, you can nevetheless tune in to the sound of space – or even possibly, the sound of silence, received directly from space via Jodrell Bank Observatory. The blog entry by Kate Adams at Futuresonic Community powerfully conveys both the bedazzlement and the amazement at the experiment. For my part, I’m glad to have recorded this very extract because on a couple of occasions you can hear Mark turning the sound of the cosmos into a melody. The melody is very fleeting, but, if I am to take the comparison to the sound of silence further, then I should first say that silence can indeed be melodic, but once you take a notice of the melody’s presence, it disappears. This is what we possibly have experienced in the dark space (sic) of Contact Theatre.
You can find Jodrell Bank on Facebook, and Planck Spacecraft is also on Twitter. The University of Manchester has been quick to embrace the developments in Social Media and Networks, so on the Planck webpage you’re actually served their Twitter stream. But since 14 May 2009 Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics has also been at the forefront of another major development, for science in general, as well as for Manchester and the University. I’m quoting from the University’s magazine, issue 8, vol. 6 (June 2009):
“Cutting-edge engineering by staff at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics will play a crucial role in a European space mission to study the fading glow of the Big Bang. Staff at the facility have designed and built radio receivers at the heart of one of the major instruments on board the Planck satellite – the most sensitive receivers of their type ever built. The European Space Agency’s Herschel and Planck satellites – launched in May – will collect the most detailed information yet about the birth and evolution of our Universe and its stars and galaxies“.
The mission has started on 14 May in French Guiana, and here is the full story about the European space mission. Not only is this all exciting, but also helps to see why for so many years – since 1996 or 1995, to be exact – Futuresonic has been a truly outstanding event where art and science were blending together in a very inspiring way.