Los Angeles Artists Build a Mobile Observatory. For Science.
A Los Angeles collective, the Desert Wizards of Mars, is building a mobile astronomical observatory dedicated to outreach and space exploration, complete with domes, a giant 9’ hand-made telescope and science exhibits.
We've been hearing a lot lately about the importance of STEM in preparing students for the future. What can we do to help promote interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math? If you’re a group of artists in Los Angeles, you take matters into your own hands by creating large scale, interactive art intended to get people—kids and adults alike—excited about science.
The Desert Wizards of Mars is a group of scientists, artists, builders, and doers, who came together around a common goal: to create art that expresses their love of space and to use that art to spark interest in STEM. After successfully building a Mars Rover Art Car (http://www.marsroverartcar.com), which looks like the big sister of NASA’s Curiosity rover, they are now building the Black Rock Observatory to take to the Burning Man festival in Nevada at the end of summer.
The Black Rock Observatory, or BRO, will make its debut at Burning Man, an event known for its large scale art and experimental technology. The harsh weather conditions and tens of thousands of participants will provide an excellent test bed for the structure. The Observatory will then become available as an open source download so that schools, makers, families, and astronomy fans can build one of their own.
“The Black Rock Observatory will be dedicated to the celebration of our place in the universe,” says lead artist Tom Varden. “We intend to show the public the joy, immediacy and beauty of our solar system and universe.”
Designed by architect Gregg Fleishman (www.greggfleishman.com), the BRO will be two domes made of CNC milled Latvian birch which will fit together like giant puzzle pieces. No nails, screws, or glue will be needed. The only tools required are rubber mallets, inquisitive minds, and teamwork. This makes the design especially intriguing for schools or organizations. The 1:6 scale model is ideal for the classroom or living room. The full size dome is a wonderful summer project for families, Scouts, science camps, or any organization that wants to encourage critical thinking and a sense of wonder as participants piece together a working observatory and then gaze into the heavens.
At Burning Man the two domes, along with a 20” telescope (nine feet tall), will be a place for visitors to engage with scientists and physicists as they peer through the telescope or relax in the open air planetarium.
“We'll be able to see cloud bands on Jupiter, nebulae, supernova remnants and globular clusters in this galaxy and we'll be able to get nice views of galaxies millions of light years beyond the Milky Way,” says Varden. “We’ll see Saturn, its ring system and 5 of its moons, Jupiter and the 4 Galilean Moons plus the Great Red Spot, polar ice caps on Mars and more.”
The structures will be assembled on site in the Black Rock Desert and will be easily dismantled in order to take the BRO to future events. This is not the first time the Desert Wizards will have created an educational piece. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, their Mars Rover Art Car was tested on the playa at Burning Man 2013, and then brought to Aerospace Valley Regional Science Olympiad at Antelope Valley College Campus in March 2014. The Black Rock Observatory, with its ability to be assembled in situ, will be another way to bring science and wonder to schools and to inspire students to pursue STEM education. The crew hopes to inspire others to build their own observatories, as well, and the downloadable plans will be a great starting point.
Follow the progress of this project online at www.blackrockobservatory.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/BlackRockObservatory) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/BlackRockObserv). Their Kickstarter campaign runs through July 17 and can be found at http://kck.st/1q79SUW.
And of course, if you will be at Burning Man, find them on the playa.