Why a musician used advanced algebra to illustrate the universe

An artist from South America used a logarithmic scale to create music and a detailed, yet approachable picture of the known universe.

Pablo Carlos Budassi/Unmismoobjetivo/Wikimedia
The artist Pablo Carlos Budassi's logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge.

An artist from South America has depicted the universe in a way even those without a PhD in physics can appreciate – a single, beautiful picture.

To do so, however, Pablo Carlos Budassi used mathematical calculations to deal with the obstacle to art posited by the universe's inconceivable size, which, as British writer Douglas Adams demonstrated in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," is otherwise difficult to convey.

"Space is big," Mr. Adams wrote in 1979. "Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."

Adams' colloquial statement on science is even more true now than it was in 1979 for two reasons. First, the human understanding of space has vastly increased through the creation of better telescopes and continued astronomical exploration. Second, according to Edwin Hubble's theory that the universe is constantly expanding, the vastness of space is now slightly larger.

"Ever since the Big Bang, the universe has been expanding," Alexander LaCasse wrote for The Christian Science Monitor. "In the 1990s cosmologists observing a special type of star explosion called a type Ia supernova concluded that the rate of the universe's expansion was actually accelerating, as though some unseen force were pushing the universe outward."

All this could have created a problem for an artist attempting to render the cosmos in a single view, but Budassi turned to advanced algebra for an answer. He was making hexaflaxagons – complex polygons usually folded from paper – as part of an art project for his son's birthday, when the idea came to create the picture using logarithms, Kelly Dickerson reported for Tech Insider.

"When I was drawing hexaflexagons for my [son's] birthday souvenirs I started drawing central views of the cosmos and the solar system," Budassi told Tech Insider in an e-mail. "That day the idea of a logarithmic view came, and in the next days I was able to [assemble] it with Photoshop using images from NASA and some textures [I] created."

The mathematical material for the project comes from a team of Princeton University researchers who assembled a series of logarithmic space maps. Budassi's image, however, is a bit more artistic.

He composed a musical series, "Una Gota" with lyrics that invite "reflection about us as human beings and our goal in this time and in this place," he told The Christian Science Monitor in an email.

For what he originally intended as an album cover, Budassi used photographs from NASA, uploaded through Photoshop and then textured with his own artistry, to give the image a realistic appearance. He placed Earth at center and the "Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge" and used the logarithmic maps from Princeton to put the pieces together, wrote Marissa Fessenden for Smithsonian Magazine.

With the solar system at the center, Budassi added the Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, and the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies gradually moving outward. The edges feature a web of cosmic microwave radiation. Budassi provided the image with details on its content through Wikimedia Commons.

It took a combination of music, art, astronomy, and advanced algebra, but like the known universe, this project features the potential for expansion. In between the music projects he needs to feed his family, Budassi is creating the storyboard and script for a short film that reflects the human place in the universe.

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