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Space-Earth-Space | Blog
posted by Johanna Salmela on 19 December 2019

The text is composed by the Space-Earth-Space group: Andy Gracie, Flis Holland, Kira O’Reilly, Melanie King, Minna Långström, Antti Tenetz and Sushant Passi.


INTRODUCTION

The Space-Earth-Space team set out to consider the exchanges of material, data and meaning that occur between Earth and Space, in both directions. Questioning the idea of physical boundaries and static systems, the team began by analysing our preconceived notions of permanence. This led to our second focus: the significance we attach to things from space, the narratives that arise from our collisions with them, and the banality of the objects themselves.


EXCHANGES

The Earth's mass is variable. It gains mass through ‘in-falling material’ - the accretion of micrometeorites and cosmic dust, meteorite strikes and other impacts. The annual average mass of material that comes to Earth is some 45,000 tons. However, there is an annual net loss of over 50,000 tons, as almost 100,000 tons every year is lost; some 92,000 tons through loss of hydrogen and helium, 16 tons through radioactive decay and 65 tons (on average) of manufactured material being launched into space.

However, the Earth-Space exchange isn’t limited to objects, materials and mass. The stratosphere, ionosphere and tenuous boundary between Earth and Space are rich with data and ideas. Radio waves and electromagnetic phenomena, both natural and artificial stream into and out of Earth’s atmosphere.

These ideas therefore challenge our notions of permanence and significance. The Earth hasn’t always been like this and it won’t always be like this. What was considered a hard border is actually a permeable membrane. The key notion is that the Earth, as an object is space, is a system in flux, sharing and exchanging its tangible and intangible materiality with the medium that surrounds it. And why is material that comes from space considered more significant? A rock is a rock, dust is dust. Why is an artwork more valuable or ‘good’ merely because it is in space or microgravity?

The notion of what is space and what isn’t, where the boundary lies or if there is one at all, the exploration of material and conceptual exchanges, and a hunt for significance underpinned our work.


THOUGHT EXERCISES WITH SATELLITES AND DATA

While stalking the physical geography and geology of the landscape we are aware that we are also in an area where the electromagnetic spectrum is constantly sending and receiving - earth to space, space to earth. 

Right next to our house in Kiekula is the antenna field of the aurora observatory and further along the road is KAIRA (Kilpisjärvi Atmospheric Imaging Receiver Array) an array of LOFAR phased-array antennas and digital signal-processing hardware used for atmospheric, near-Earth space and astronomical research.

https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6891274&isnumber=6899760

Incoherent scatter.

The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory tracks meteors as they race over our heads.

Meanwhile, contrasting with the VHF of KAIRA, we carry the VLF radio receiver, listening to lightning and auroral whistles from many kilometres away. Surfing across the radio spectrum, the crackles and wisps and pings of electromagnetic exchanges between Earth and Space. Despite the clouds we are still able to interact with cosmic phenomena. Exploring the concept of material space, beyond human sensorial spectrum.

Satellites we see above us embody an extension of the human sensory cortex. The scales and presence of the technosphere merge with the biosphere.



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DUST               

Disturbances #2: Cosmic Dust by Jay Owens     

One hundred tons of cosmic dust lands on earth each day.

Alongside electromagnetic radiation from the sun, stars and cosmic background radiation; cosmic rays (which are in fact high energy particles, not “rays” at all); and meteors; dust is thereby one of the few points of contact the earth has with what lies beyond. It’s the way the outside comes in.

We classify it by how far it has come – so there’s intergalactic dust and interstellar dust, plus interplanetary dust from within the Solar System such as comet dust, dust from the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune, and asteroidal dust from the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Theoretically.

The challenge, in practice, is in telling it all apart. Dust, after all, is the most formless state of matter – perhaps we might say it’s even defined as an absence: dust is what we call very small particles of stuff when we cannot specify what else this stuff is, such as sand, or soil, or soot. Dust can be made of anything, from stars to skin flakes.

In abstract, up there in space, it’s classifiable by origin – but in practice, unknowable. At every step in the process of trying to get understand it, we unavoidably contaminate the very substance we’re trying to analyse.

Schrödinger’s dust.

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SEARCHING FOR MICROMETEORITES

Some 30,000 tons of cosmic dust (interplanetary dust particles, interstellar dust, intergalactic dust…) enters the Earth’s atmosphere every year. About 1400 tons makes it to the surface. 80% of this material is related to carbonaceous chondrites, which generally have their origin in comets. This material is commonly collected from the Arctic or from ocean sediments. There are also iron based particles, and we can collect these ourselves... if we accept that we are looking for needles in haystacks, and if we accept the enormity of this futility.

Nam-chak, or sky iron is meteorite iron from which ritual tools are made for the transformative and energetic wrathful practice sometimes deployed in Vajrayana. An example is the phurba, the three sided dagger which stab at the roots of attraction, aversion and indifference as exemplified by the yidam (awareness being) Dorje Phurba (Vajrakilaya) who ' . . . holds a wrathful nine-pronged nam-chak phurba which stabs all illusions of entrapment within the nine bardos, and simultaneously explodes and implodes all concepts of time and space.'


http://www.aroencyclopaedia.org/shared/text/d/dorje_phurba_th_01_aro_02_figure_eng.php

Above the line where the cripple trees (vaivaiskoivu) cease to grow we search for micrometeorites. Cosmic dust, metallic and rocky, is washed by watercourses into natural basins and similar collection points. So armed with neodymium magnets on sticks we can fish for them, isolating them from non-metallic dust, for later examination under microscopes.

This is plan A. But our group’s carefully-packed neodymium magnets are not to be found, having been irresistibly drawn to other magnetic forces en route to the field laboratory. Plan B is to scoop up the sediments and separate them with less powerful magnets in the lab.

We strike out to where there are waterfalls coming down off the fells, and collect spooned samples from the top, the middle bottom, the bottom bottom and the rock bottom. Sediment is extracted using a kitchen spoon repurposed as a trowel.

Later it is fastened to a hat with both the spurious and entirely reasonable logic of, why not? It’s absurdity not for moment intended to undermine the gorgeous seriousness of our intent. To find a micrometeorite, to contemplate the thousands of tonnage of matter that descends from the heavens each year, would be, well heavenly.


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METEORITE STORY – KAALI METEOR

Long the fair and faithful maiden

Stroked the Fire-child with her fingers,

Tended it with care and pleasure,

Till in an unguarded moment

It escaped the Ether-virgin,

Slipped the hands of her that nursed it.

Quick the heavens are burst asunder,

Quick the vault of Ukko opens,

Downward drops the wayward Fire-child,

Downward quick the red-ball rushes,

Shoots across the arch of heaven,

Hisses through the startled cloudlets,

Flashes through the troubled welkin,

Through nine starry vaults of ether.

"When the fire had fled from Turi,

From the castles of Palwoinen,

Through the eyelet of the needle,

Through the death-hole of the hatchet,

First it burned the fields, and forests,

Burned the lowlands, and the heather;

Then it sought the mighty waters,

Sought the Alue-sea and river,

And the waters hissed and sputtered

In their anger at the Fire-child,

Fiery red the boiling Alue!

                     - rune XLVII, Louhi steals Sun, Moon and Fire, Kalevala


3500 years ago, in the early Holocene, an iron meteoroid of type IAB hit Saarenmaa Island in the Baltic Sea with an impact energy of about 20 kilotons of TNT, comparable with that of the Hiroshima bomb blast. Besides the oft cited destructive impacts of large bodies, smaller impacts can transform societies through utilisation and acts of worship. Kaali has been believed to be a holy and sacred site by locals for many centuries.

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FINDINGS

We return to the laboratory of the biological station, and our samples are then filtered with the use of a rather more humble magnet, borrowed from the fridge door of the biological stations kitchen. The idea being to screen the debris for magnetic contenders, and then to scrutinise these under the microscope.

There are moments of excitement and anticipation when some of the tiny colorful sand grains – huge in the microscopes- carried some meteorite resemblance. As a result of their burning journey through Earth’s atmosphere, micro meteorites are of a spherule shape. A repeated script is:

One of us, I think I might have found something, it is round - or roundish.

Andy, with a practiced scry down the microscope, no. I can see what you’re getting at, but no.

Gold or something like it was found within our samples. Copper was mentioned. And with it the distant but distinct of the threats upon the Sápmi land, mutterings of commercial mining, the requirement for elements and minerals for contemporary technology manufacture. Later quartz was identified holding magnetite.

We don't find micrometeorites but we know they are out there.


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METEORITE STORY – TALLINN 

In the Lasnamäe district of Tallinn, Estonia, the impact print of a slab-shaped projectile from some 10,000 years ago was found in the bedrock during excavations for a new shopping centre. A conservation and viewing facility was proposed but never built, and the footprint has been re-buried under artificial soil. The drab retail complex, a few local roads and a now-defunct football team were all named after the meteorite fall.

http://www.histrodamus.ee/index.php?event=Show_event&event_id=1445&layer=60&lang=eng#1445

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DISSOLVING BORDERS, OR RE-NEGOTIATING THEM

We become preoccupied with nocturnal weather, anxiously track forecasts. We want to observe the night sky from dark places, to feel the darkness, to feel the dissolving borders. Just us, the darkness, the stars, the meteors, the satellites, the planets.

Some nights we set up an ad-hoc observatory at 1am, 2 am, 3am in the darkness outside the Kiekula house. Cameras on tripods taking hundreds of stills for stacking and timelapses, telescope pointed at the Moon or Andromeda. Viewed through the lens of new materialism defined by Karen Barad and Jane Bennett, astronomical photography (both contemporary and historical) could be described as an intrinsically material practice, in which we are able to intra-act with the universe, in which matter has a distinct agency and expresses vitality.

Mid-week we set our sights even higher, and five SES members plus two Second Order guests hike through the darkness to a remote kota at Saanajärvi, weighed down with cameras, tripods and radios, our head torches bobbing. When we reach the kota we build a fire inside to fend off the rapidly falling temperatures, as snow streams past horizontally outside the door.

Waiting for the night sky to clear, we sit in a circle around the fire and check our equipment. Flis takes out her phone, scrolls and begins to speak. She tells us a story, or a nest of stories, that is clearly personal and yet is delivered in a hyper-controlled manner. We listen intently, her voice carrying insistently over the soft crackles and pops of the burning wood.

Flis: –‘Meteoric rise’ sounds like an oxymoron since meteors fall, but that’s because modern usage has lost part of the imagery. If it’s seen low in the sky, a meteor travels in an arc, rising as it approaches zenith, then falling. A meteoric career trajectory was one that starts suddenly and spectacularly, is briefly, transiently brilliant but then is quickly extinguished. I was old school. I came down, fast.

A sci-fi sounding former career in asteroid defence systems is tangled with experiences of self-harm and depression in a stark reframing of risk and survival skills. We’re deeply moved.

Later, at around 1am, the sky finally clears. With hands shaking from cold we venture outside to set up cameras and tripods and identify which stars, which planets, which satellites we are seeing and imaging. We are rewarded with an occasional shooting star and the Plough swathed in a shimmering grey-green auroral cloak.

The three-quarters-full moon, as beautiful as it is, prevents us from having the absolute darkness we looked for. Still, without the abstract awareness of the daytime blue, or grey, as a covering, a consciousness of atmosphere, a thing that is not space, we can begin to sense the continuum. The night sky we are bathing in reaches right down to our feet. The neutrinos speeding from deep within it continue on… through us, through the Earth itself. Reaching out with our eyes and imaginations we arrive light years away.

By 4am it's enough. We scurry back into the kota and cocoon ourselves in sleeping bags around the fire, wordlessly inching closer to each other for warmth, listening to the wind and dreaming of the spectacle outside.





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METEORITE STORY – ANN HODGES                   

A direct hit might have killed her, but it tore through the roof and ricocheted off a radio set before careering into her body. Neighbours, eye-witnesses and local police were swarming over the house within minutes, and in the ensuing media frenzy over 200 journalists flocked to Sylacauga, Alabama to see Ann Hodges, the first recorded person to be injured by a falling meteorite.

Eugene Hodges, seeing an opportunity to profit from his wife’s accident, rejected a cash offer from the Smithsonian in the hope that a bidding war might break out. But as he waited for buyers their landlady sued for possession of the meteorite, arguing that it had landed on her property. During the lengthy court case public interest waned, and the value of the meteorite with it. The Hodges were unable to sell and used it as a doorstop until Ann, sick of the sight of it, donated it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

The strain of the court case, the hounding by the media and the humiliation of a photograph of her bruised, semi-naked body in LIFE magazine all contributed to Ann’s sink into depression. The couple later divorced, citing the meteorite as a cause in legal documents, and Ann died alone in a nursing home from kidney failure at the age of 51.

This is one way to tell the story. It extends the story further than the slapstick version in the newspapers, but for Ann Hodges her life still effectively ends at the impact. While the meteorite fall undoubtedly had a significant impact on Ann Hodges’ life, and there is no shortage of ‘factual evidence’, Ann’s voice is almost completely missing from the narrative. We simply cannot know who she is and whether her fate was tragic or not2. But there are other ways to tell these stories3.

1. LIFE magazine, Dec. 13 1954

2. Natasha Christia, catalogue essay, Find a Fallen Star, Kehrer 2015

3. Regine Petersen, Find a Fallen Star, Kehrer 2015

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METEORITES ON SAANA

Minna: –When the Curiosity rover had been traveling for a bit more than forty days it ran into a strange looking object in the middle of a sandy plateau area otherwise empty of bigger features. If anything looks like having dropped down from above it would be this feature. However not very recently since the triangular shape of the stone has formed by eolian (wind) erosion over time. The stone was considered igneous, after the NASA team used its brand new Mars Science Laboratory equipment on it to study its composition. It seems to be of the same consistency as some rare volcanic rocks found on Earth and up to the point of investigating the Jake Matijevic, or Jake M rock, no other rock had been found exactly like it on Mars.

I can’t help but imagine what it might have felt like to encounter this rock in the otherwise flat and empty desert. Despite seeing it via images, the act of approaching it must have been full of anticipation. The presence of something else in the environment. Strange not only because it is a lone rock in the middle of a sandy plateau, but because of its outlandish pyramidal look. At least the non geologist looking at these pictures might ask themselves - as the first thing that comes to mind - how it got there.
    
We try to unpack the notion of alien material in terrestrial locations. The fact that an object travels from space to earth gives it some kind of banal value. What makes a meteorite different from a rock on earth?

Some indisputable meteorites arrived to us not from above but by mail to Kilpisjärvi.

Braving the biting cold up half way up Saana Fell we each choose a rock that talks to us of meteorites. We find a site to make a temporary laboratory to workshop a comparative analysis with meteorites and stones. We brought our own meteorites with us - a piece of the Dronino meteorite, a piece of the Sikhote-Alin, a piece of the Muonionalusta Meteorite. We place these alien objects amongst ancient stones and consider their origins, trajectories and differences. What are they? Does it matter? Then we give flight to our chosen rocks, recreating entry curves and impacts, attempting to launch them hard enough to leave craters.

What makes a meteorite so special?

Sushant:The way we humans ascribe meaning to objects is a wondrous thing. Tiny artefacts, made up of a few chemical elements that have been around for time fathomable, are capable of carrying such immense value, meaning and wonder. Once such artefact, is a meteorite.

Meteorites, are fascinating. We check their chemical makeup, know that they’re built from pretty well known and commonly found elements. They’re pretty well sterilized too after their scorching entry into our atmosphere. And yet, they still carry this incredible feeling of the unknown, of darkness and of origin untouched by humankind.

I saw a shooting star, I made a wish.



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METEORITE STORY - CHELYABINSK

Chelyabinsk, Russia. 9.20am 15 feb 2013

A super bolide of some 20m entered at over 65,000 kmh. Nobody was expecting it but thanks to Russia’s dash cam culture it was recorded thousands of times. People looked up, in awe at the fireball, marvelling at the majesty of the enormous and growing smoke trail. 30 seconds later everyone was ducking and running for cover as the shock wave smashed windows and set off car alarms. 1,500 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical treatment. 7,200 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the explosion's shock wave. The largest of thousands of recovered fragments weighed 654kg, but broke into 3 pieces while being weighed.

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CONSUMING DRONINO

Geophagia is the practice of eating earth or soil-like substrates such as clay or chalk. It occurs in non-human animals where it may be a normal or abnormal behaviour, and also in humans, most often in rural or preindustrial societies among children and pregnant women. Human geophagia may be related to pica, an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) characterized by abnormal cravings for non-nutritive items.    

For the SES group event on the final evening we invited everybody to sit with us in a circle, to contemplate a lump of amphibolite from Saana and a piece of the Dronino meteorite. Everybody had already become familiar, invested, wtih this piece of meteorite during an unexplained game of chinese whispers the previous evening. Our own unexpected impact studies had prevented this session taking place straight afterwards.

Our guests were told stories about meteorites and cosmic dust, extracts from which have appeared throughout this text. During the readings the meteorite was rhythmically filed into dust, being passed between three members of SES, setting the meter and punctuanting the breaks. The final story was about the eating of rocks, then the eating of meteorites, and now everybody realised what was going to happen. The meteorite filings.... some 10 grams.... 20 grams? were poured through a strainer into a bowl of blueberry rahka being prepared at the edge of the circle. Everybody was given a spoon and invited to join us in consuming the meteorite. Some did, some didn't, some even thought it 'wrong' to destroy and ingest such an amazing object. Considering the consumption of meteorite material through the lens of Barad, the apparatus, the surrounding Exlandscape of Kilpisjarvi, the meteorite, the consumer and the file are all entangled.

Ours is believed to be the fourth historically recorded instance of meteorite eating. The third, and our initial inspiration, was conducted by the artist Alfonso Borragan in Barcelona in 2014.

“With the infiltration of exogenous bodies we ingest their information, making the objects and their worship disappear.”

Where some people see nourishment others can only see stones.

Kira:

I remember that I ate particles of a meteorite this Saturday past

In Lapland

That night I dreamt vividly of metallurgical foldings forming delicate antlers upon my mossy rust surfaces

Strange moons of various scales peered with surprise into one another's lambent faces within the uncertainty of the alterity of their eternal orbits.

Later Carmella produced her planisphere which indicated that indeed the poles had swivelled and moved, however the precise nature of their relocation was as yet unclear*

I remember that as the coils were carefully being unfurled I looked behind me, to my astonishment I could see a long tail of sinewy coppery proportions extending backwards into prehensile waywardness

The endocrine salt batteries began their ecstatic communication of atomical exchange

The Monument is a telescope

If the Old Woman can’t go to Lapland, then Lapland must come to the Old Woman**


*Carmella is a forthright and thoroughly practical character in The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington.

**The final line from The Hearing Trumpet.