European Space Observatory discusses ‘Stranger Exoplanets’
Artist Julia Christensen is collaborating with scientists at US-based space agency NASA, which is preparing to send a space probe to conduct a reconnaissance fly-by around the star Alpha Centauri. The NASA craft will ferry Ms Christensen’s artwork, The Tree of Life, to beam it to any alien life on Proxima b.
The Ohio Oberlin College-based artist is working with NASA scientist Professor Anthony Freeman in a project organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Technology lab.
It’s a very visionary mood. This has been one of the most inspiring and expansive projects of my life
Professor Freeman is part of a team designing a craft capable of travelling to Proxima b.
This is the nearest planet to our solar system residing in the “Goldilocks zone” from its star.
This means Proxima b may have a sufficiently temperate climate to be habitable by aliens.
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Ms Christensen said: “If this spacecraft could travel at a 10th of the speed of light, it would take 42 years to reach its destination.
However, she admits current technology remains a long way from achieving such speeds.
She added: “So we have 40 years until we arrive at the technology to go that fast.
“How do we develop technology now that will function 100 years into the future?
“What kind of data is it going to send back to us in 2111?”
Ms Christensen’s work The Tree of Life is a reference to the Golden Record, NASA sent into space with Voyager in 1977.
This was an actual album etched with music, greetings in numerous languages, and photos of life on Earth, there for alien life forms to find.
However, instead of ferrying songs by humans, this project is a little more unusual as it will feature music made by trees.
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The artist and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers are working on building a tiny CubeSat that can remain functional for 200 years.
This will gather information from trees outfitted with devices allowing them to communicate with the satellite.
They hope to develop the device within the next few years, using a budget of less than $1 million.
Ms Christensen said: “The trees will have a conversation with the CubeSat.
“They’ll transmit information on their lives and how they’re doing to the CubeSat, and the CubeSat will send data about how it’s doing.
“That dialogue will be translated into sonic frequencies that will become a song.
“That’s what will be embedded on the spacecraft headed to Proxima b.”
She adds the engineers she has worked with at JPL are true visionaries.
Ms Christensen said: “We often talk about how there’s a place where science and art meet on the plane of existential questions.
“When you get to the point of trying to imagine how humanity can explore the next star system over, you get to imaginative questions.
“It’s a very visionary mood. This has been one of the most inspiring and expansive projects of my life.”
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