Wonderful Gallery of Science: Magdeburg Spheres

Today’s image presents the fanciful prospect of great iron spheres afloat in the heavens. It was posted to the Wonderful Gallery of Science tumblr by artist and writer Peggy Nelson, who presents it as a reminder of latter-day fancies:

Magdeburg Spheres, experiment by Otto von Guericke, 1654. Engraving by Gaspasr Schott, 1657. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his vacuum pump, Otto von Guericke created two metal hemispheres designed to fit together without gaps. The hemispheres were simply placed together, not welded or affixed. The internal area was then drained of air through a valve, creating a vacuum. To demonstrate both the existence of the vacuum, and its force, two teams of horses were hitched up to each hemisphere; they were unable to pull them apart. This engraving by Gaspar Schott illustrates not only the experiment itself, but the aesthetic considerations inherent in all scientific imagery. These are easier to see in older images, where the parallax renders them more jarring to contemporary eyes. The carefully rendered landscape? To us, extraneous. The redrawn and labelled spheres in the sky? To us, ridiculous. Which raises the significant question: what aspects of our current scientific imagery will be deemed extraneous or ridiculous to the eyes of tomorrow?

Peggy Nelson is a new media artist whose work involves fractured narratives in film, augmented reality, Twitter, and even objects on occasion. She blogs about art and the virtual life at HiLobrow.com.

And remember to submit your own favorite scientific imagery to the Wonderful Gallery. This space could be yours!

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