It was an immense pleasure to spend the spring and summer months at the Mont-Mégantic Observatory during this research-creation residency. It was a fantastic opportunity to spend time with the iREx team, a group of dynamic exoplanet hunters who were incredibly welcoming and generous with their time. I deeply appreciated the unique opportunity to shadow professional astronomers and technicians at the Observatory, spending long nights with them as they collected photons from objects light-years away. The experience provided me with profound insights about how scientist work – and a newly found appreciation for espresso!
For me, the art-science fusion is an epistemic interrogation. What is science? What is art? How do we create new knowledge? What can an artist bring to a discussion about science? My own research question coming into this residency was to investigate whether it was possible to create a new taxonomy for exoplanets, one that was based on shapes and data rather than on the anthropocentric solar-system based model that we use today.
The current taxonomy draws parallels to solar system planets, naming these new worlds Hot Jupiters, Super-Earths, or Warm Saturns. However, for the majority of exoplanets being discovered, there is no fitting solar system equivalent. Inspired by this conundrum, my project “Exoplanet Zoo” explored a new way to construct an exoplanet taxonomy. I inserted exoplanet data, such as a planet’s mass, semi-major axis, and eccentricity, into the code of a 3D-model of a simple sphere. The substituted numbers “glitched” the sphere, producing unexpected new shapes. Emerging patterns in these transformed spherical models could provide hints at a new classification system. The artwork above depicts the initial two-dimensional studies, which were then transformed into 3D-prints.
“Exoplanet Zoo” juxtaposes Victorian-era concepts of science with modern technologies such as 3D modeling and 3D printing. I hope that this project may inspire astronomers to look at exoplanet taxonomies with new eyes, and spark conversations around the topic of planetary classification systems.