By Peter Becker
Science may try and claim the night sky, but many viewers see art as well. As sure as the petals around a flower, sculpted sand dunes rippling over the desert, foaming waves crashing on the shore or the intricacies of a spider’s web, the stars above have inspired artists for time immemorial.
Scientific explanations can fill a book with tables of information, formulas and graphics to detail the motion of a planet or the swirl in a spiral galaxy. How they touch the human soul, however, adds a reverence beyond the attempt at cold, hard facts, a sense of awe that keeps us humble and keeps us looking.
The stars and planets have been favored subjects by many artists. One of the most recognized paintings done by Vincent van Gogh is entitled, "Starry Night." The Dutch painter lived, 1853-1890.
Highly impressionistic, the stars are large, and the swirling clouds, along wit the extreme depth of scene from the towering bush at the left to the moon and stars over the sleepy village, keep your eyes moving and involve the viewer.
The song inspired Don McLean’s song, "Starry, Starry Night" and its image adorns countless merchandise products.
According to the web site www.vangoghgallery,com, van Gogh painted "Starry Night" while in an asylum at Saint-Remy in June 1889. Today it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
It has been theorized the large white star near the horizon in "Starry Night" is the planet Venus. The way the crescent Moon at upper right is pictured, if done astronomically sensible, the view must be of the pre-dawn eastern sky, with Venus as the Morning Star.
The swirling clouds may be just that- clouds- or as has been suggested, van Gogh may have been visualizing "spiral nebulae." Known to have had an interest in astronomy, photographs by astronomers were already being taken in his time. In 1888, the Andromeda Galaxy’s spiral structure had been photographed.
At that time period, the galactic nature of these deep sky objects was not realized, but were believed to be cloud-like nebulae of dust or gas within our own Milky Way. They were hailed as proof of the popular nebular hypothesis, which taught that solar systems are condensed from a rotating cloud with a star in the center.
Many other artists have been inspired by the sky as well.
Full Moon is on April 25.
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Keep looking up!