Capturing the ‘Cosmic Clock’

Christian Sasse

Written by Christian Sasse

September 1, 2023

Cosmic Clock is a new company that aims to make science more tangible and exciting to the public. There are beautiful mathematical patterns in nature around us — for example spirals and fractal patterns that you can find in flowers, spider webs and snails, and these patterns are scalable all the way to the galaxies in the universe. It is no surprise that they deeply engrained in our lives too, in our bodies – for example in the shape of the ear, the proportions of our face, and in symbols like the mandala. We aim to educate and inspire people everywhere about our world, our galaxy, and the universe we live in. 

Cosmic Clock serves science centers, communities, art exhibitions and public places. We aim at presentations that enable the public to become aware of and be inspired by the incredible patterns the natural world.

cosmic clock beautiful mandarin duck

“My doctorate focused on light-scattering by irregularly shaped particles, and I was able to suspend a single particle in the air and study its optical properties in detail by illuminating it in various colors with a bright laser beam.”

‘Picture Perfect’ Science

Visitors to my laboratory were mesmerized by the reflected and scattered patterns they could see on the wall, which changed rapidly as the particle moved or rotated in suspension. I learned from this experience to look out for the small details and to appreciate the patterns.

When I took up photography seriously in 2011, I didn’t read books or take courses, I continued working as I had in the lab – by exploring, by looking for patterns and by ignoring the rules. Because of my experience with particles, I concentrated on droplets and how they interacted with nature – for example an eagle ducking its head in water and photographing the droplets as they reflected the sunlight.

bald eagle ducking head under water

“My interest lies in discovering beautiful patterns in nature.”

Stacking these moments upon each other to make it appear that something is happening in a single image has created perhaps a more impactful art form than a time-lapse video, which shows what is happening in a phased sequence. My interest lies in discovering beautiful patterns in nature. 

They can be in space at any moment in time, for example in a cloud formation and imagining faces or figures in them. Alternatively, it is also possible to take a picture of a single cloud at one moment and then take another image a few minutes later, when the cloud has moved or new clouds have appeared. Then by combining (or stacking) these two images, one can create the image of a cloud formation. If I then showed you both images, you would probably not be able to tell which method was used to photograph them.

In my approach, time becomes a fixed dimension in photography in addition to the three dimensions of space. Stacking can make for a more revealing image that helps us to discover new patterns. So all I have done is to take this a step further and superimpose the Milky Way at different times and to experiment with different intervals.

paradise of telescopes cosmic clock

I need to elaborate a bit on space-time, especially in light of the major breakthrough announced on 17 August this year that it is possible to capture gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars. Scientists have, for the first time, captured light and sound simultaneously from an event in the universe. This is mind-boggling, and Einstein would have deemed it impossible.

Appreciating Natural Beauty

I really love to combine nature and the night sky. Sometimes I do “light painting,” by taking a torch and illuminating a cluster of rocks or trees in the foreground. I lived in Namibia during my last year of high school and remember the beautiful landscapes and dunes and roads that seemed to go on forever. That would be my first choice. South Africa offers similar dark skies in the Karoo, where the Sutherland observatory is located. In Canada, Alberta or British Columbia are excellent choices with beautiful mountains and lakes, but the weather can be unpredictable. In the US there are many places, but I find that there are often too many people. Moab has impressive sandstone arches, ideal for night photography. There are still places in Chile and Hawaii I would like to visit.

bald eagles flying in synch

Bald Eagles are simply beautiful. The contrast between the white head and dark feathers is a feast for the eye. Their real beauty and toughness become apparent under extreme and harsh weather conditions, such as in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. They can survive in continuous snow, ice and wind. I lie flat on the ground with my big lens and camera and wait in the cold as long as necessary to capture a special moment – for example, when they dip their beaks in icy water.  I am also fascinated by their long wingspan, their gliding ability and maneuverability, their permanent alertness and their adaptability – even to the urban environment.

The older I get, the more I see. I am humbled by the incredible beauty of our natural environment and am concerned about the wasteful way we treat our planet. I am also concerned that the majority of young people have never seen the Milky Way with their own eyes: nowadays it seems sufficient to experience everything though a smartphone. Although I am a big tech-fan, it is important to observe details with our own senses if we are to develop a fuller sense of the wonders of the universe and our world, and our place within it – and responsibility for its continued well-being.

bald eagle eye up close

High-speed photography has now become accessible to all of us because suitable cameras are entering the consumer market and have dropped in price. This is exciting, because we can now capture distinct images of actions that would otherwise just be a blur. The hummingbird for example exhibits incredible maneuverability and stability. Not only can it hover and swoop and climb at amazing speed, it can fly backwards. How does it do this?

Now anyone with a high-speed camera can capture this in their own garden. So many details become visible: the way they twist their wings like insects; the way they flick their tail feathers to make sound; the way they interact with intruders; and the way their iridescent colors change as they turn. I have just started to explore all these phenomena and we will see where it leads.

My wish is to inspire people to open their eyes and ears, to take time to explore and to wonder. I hope I can pass my enthusiasm on to the next generation.

Related  Articles