Is Science a form of Art ?


False-color images from the Landsat-8 satellite, and the Normalized Difference Snow Index to select blue ice areas from snow cover or even clouds

“There is more to this than meets the eye” – with our human eyes, we can only see what is called the visible spectrum of sunlight. So if there is anything beyond this visible part, our eyes would unfortunately be completely blind to it. Have you ever wondered if there is anything left or right of a rainbow ? Or how a color would look like that is more red than red ?

Good old Isaac Newton discovered in the 17th century that he could produce a rainbow if he holds a prism in the sunlight. But it was William Herschel who discovered about 100 years later, that each color in a rainbow has a different temperature. And guess what, his spare thermometer which was just laying around next to the one measuring the temperature of the red color, showed an even higher temperature ?! He discovered that there must be something beyond the colors of a rainbow… Today we know that this “more-red” is called “infra-red”, and that it carries long-wave radiation which is simply warm energy.


Now it gets interesting – scientists have developed “artificial eyes”, that can see what lies beyond the visible spectrum. These sensors capture the radiation in narrow bands (I like to think about it like a gray-scale image). We can then use computers to display these bands so that our human eyes can also see beyond the rainbow.

If we put these sensors on a satellite we can then look at Antarctica from a very different perspective. For our expedition to the Priestley Glacier, we use combinations of these bands to separate snow-covered areas from blue glacier ice. This helps us to plan where to deploy our field-stations best. We can also delineate crevassed areas on the ice surface to keep us save while we are there. But there is even more to it – with satellite images in the radar part of the electromagnetic spectrum, we can measure how tides bend the ice along the Antarctic coastline. And yes, these images also look pretty cool:


A double-differential interferogram from space-borne radar data

To answer your question – Science and Art are the same thing. Both are attempts of humans to describe and understand the world around us. Their language, methods and questions might be different, but their motivation is the same fundamental human curiosity.

PS: Yes, I grew a mustache only for this picture, which took me about 4 months. Worth it !

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2 Responses to Is Science a form of Art ?

  1. Elke Kreuzer says:

    Now you are also an artist! Great! Never thought that a science blog could be so varied and exciting…;-)


  2. urack says:

    That is really interesting and made a complicated part of science much more understandable. Great stuff!


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