Dazzling instruments that capture breathtakingly detailed images of the Sun have sparked an artistic collaboration that is airing on primetime television.

The video shows how artist Melanie King has reimagined representations of the scientific instruments on board the ESA-led Solar Orbiter spacecraft, painted using light-sensitive chemicals and illuminated with ultraviolet light.

The result is a ‘cyanotype’ – a blueprint created using a printing process first developed by English astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842. The use of ultraviolet light links the artwork to the ultraviolet instruments on the spacecraft and the light emitted from the Sun.

Melanie King and Lucie Green collaborated on the artwork

“I thought it would be great to focus on Solar Orbiter’s different instruments – aesthetically it’s such a beautiful thing,” says artist Melanie King, who is researching the relationship between astronomy, recording instruments and image-making as part of her practice-based PhD at the Royal College of Art in the UK.

A series of 30-second videos showing the making of the artwork – which was created in collaboration with Lucie Green, a professor of physics at University College London who is involved with Solar Orbiter – is screening on the British ITV television channel throughout February.

Using ultraviolet light connects the artwork to Solar Orbiter and the Sun

Solar Orbiter is the most complex scientific laboratory ever to have been sent to the Sun. Launched in February 2020, it is due to start scientific operations in November. Over the course of its mission, it will make a series of gravity slingshots around Venus – and one around Earth – in order to obtain new views of the Sun.

It will capture solar images from closer than any spacecraft ever before – from within the orbit of the Solar System’s innermost planet Mercury – and, for the first time, examine the Sun’s uncharted polar regions.

The results could help researchers to understand what drives the Sun’s 11-year cycle of rising and subsiding magnetic activity that generates sunspots and how the solar wind arises.

“ESA is the inspiration because it’s the organisation that made Europe come together to build Solar Orbiter,” says Lucie Green.

“I hope that viewers will see that art and science come together – both are creative enterprises. And I hope that people will be inspired to think about Solar Orbiter and follow its exciting mission as it gets ever closer to the Sun.”

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Follow the mission on Twitter via @ESASolarOrbiter

Creating an artwork inspired by Solar Orbiter

ESA, photos Theo Deproost for ITV Creative