Who would have guessed that science and art could bind together and draw inspiration from each other? Science, a system of learning based on observation of facts and figures; art, an expression of inner creativity, so often abstract in form.

One of the key parts of scientific discovery is space. Human understanding of the universe around us and our place within it is one of the most vital parts of our scientific learning.

It’s this very understanding of the universe which has given rise to a great many artistic pursuits. One of the most prominent of these pursuits is what has become known as Adrift. Set up by artists Cathy Le Couteur and Nick Ryan, Adrift is a project which draws on the inspiration of space- or, more specifically, the junk found in space.

There are three major pieces of space junk which Adrift works with. The first piece has been termed Vanguard. First set up in 1958, Vanguard was the first solar powered satellite launched into space. Its space-based observations proved ground-breaking: it discovered that Planet Earth is not, in fact, round, but pear shaped. Unfortunately, Earth lost control of the satellite after six years, but it remains in orbit. It has now become the oldest piece of manmade space junk, set to remain in orbit for the next 240 years.

Another notable piece of space junk in which Adrift has taken interest is what is known as Suitsat. This piece of space junk is pretty much what it says on the tin: a space suit which has become a satellite. The suit was first ejected into space in 2006, microphone and all. The signal to the suit from Earth is now weak, but the orbit remains.

A perhaps more ominous piece of space junk is Fengyun. Formerly a weather satellite, Fengyun was dismantled by a missile in 2007 which blew it into 3,000 pieces. Those pieces of junk collided with each other, creating more junk which continue to crash into each other. Potential for lethality abounds here, with more and more pieces of junk being created and corrupting the atmosphere in space. At its current rate, it will make space exploration impossible.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. By tapping into pieces of space junk such as these, Adrift has created something rather special in the world of art. An important example would be Machine 9, a handcrafted electromechanical sound instrument. It tracks the positions of 27,000 pieces of space junk and transforms them into sound in real time as they pass overhead.

And thus, science has been used to give birth to new artistic masterpieces. Through creations such as Machine 9, we are able to listen to the music of the universe. Those pieces of apparent rubbish floating around in space are far from disconnected to those of us on Planet Earth. By observing and listening to them through the eyes and ears of an artist, with the help of Adrift, those pieces of junk have become very important indeed.

– Luke Mayo, Correspondent (Art)