A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Apr 1, 2011
Have you ever listened to a language that you don’t speak? When you’re unencumbered by the meaning of the words, you’re free to revel in how beautiful they sound.
I had a similar experience visiting Satellites See Wisconsin, the latest exhibition at the Dane County Regional Airport’s art court. Organized by the Space Science and Engineering Center and Tandem Press, the exhibit offers images of Wisconsin taken by weather satellites that fly hundreds of miles above the earth.
Visitors see the Door Peninsula dotted and lined with fluorescent hues, wispy white cloud formations and airplane contrails criss-crossing over a lake and storms working their way across the land. They take in a detail of Wisconsin in the summer, so green and textured the state looks like a leaf, and an aerial view that resembles the patterning of a stone, plus images of lakes, seasons, flooding, algae blooms, cranberry bogs, tornado tracks and more. The images are beautiful—even without knowledge about what they represent.
Such diverse images are possible thanks to the work of satellites and the technology behind them, much of which was developed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
“Twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week they observe and take measurements of Earth’s atmosphere and surface. For more than fifty years weather satellites have provided never before seen snapshots and unprecedented details about Earth and its atmosphere,” a brochure for the exhibition states.
Paula Panczenko, executive director of Tandem Press, says the stunning visuals draw visitors in to learn about the science of satellites. Steve Ackerman, director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at UW, agrees that the artistic aspect of the images is a natural starting point.
“As scientists, we generate very pretty pictures,” he says. “You get so used to it. Then someone sees it and points out that it’s beautiful.”
Indeed, visitors can wander the exhibition for a purely aesthetic experience or dig into details about developments at the Space Science & Engineering Center, in satellite technologies and how scientists use the data the satellites collect. QR codes throughout exhibition allow visitors to download information to smart phones, and the exhibition also includes a full-scale model of a satellite, a real-time weather display and an interactive booth with views of the earth showing hurricanes, lights and weather.
Ackerman has three goals for those who visit the exhibition: “That they get a feel of the historic role Wisconsin has played, an appreciation for the beauty of the satellite imagery and that they say, ‘Oh, cool,’ and just enjoy it.”
Satellites See Wisconsin is open through September 10. For more information, visit ssec.wisc.edu/airportexhibit/.
Images courtesy of the Space Science and Engineering Center. For more photos, see this slideshow.