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NAISA exhibit in South River showcases sunspot activity

The exhibit demystifies the sun's behaviour for people so they have a better understanding of how the sun operates
Dan Tapper and one part of his Helios exhibit at New Adventures in Sound Art in South River. The image of the sun on the right is real while the image on the left is an abstract visualization. The exhibit displays sunspot activity in nearly real time.

New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in South River has an out-of-this-world exhibit.

Helios is a multi-faceted exhibit that displays among other things our sun's sunspots. York University instructor Dan Tapper created the exhibit which is really three separate displays.

The sunspot piece attracts the most attention because it features two images of the sun side-by-side on a large TV screen.

When looking at the screen, Tapper says the sun image on the right is an actual image of the sun over 24 hours while the sun's image on the left is an abstract visualization of the sun.

Using publicly available data,  Tapper has created a moving image of sunspot activity dating back to about 1820 which users can interact with through a control panel. Right now there are more sunspots than usual because the sun is at its maximum in its 11-year solar cycle where its north and south magnetic fields flip and then flip back another 11 years from now.

The changing magnetic fields also affect the activity on the sun's surface and this includes sunspots.

Tapper hopes his exhibit demystifies the sun's behaviour for people so they have a better understanding of how the sun operates.

“And maybe they become interested enough and do research on the sun on their own,” Tapper said. “I also hope they enjoy it visually enough to just have an experience of the sun”.

A pair of phonographs make up the second part of the Helios exhibit. In this instance, Tapper took solar data, like sunspots, and encoded that information into discs played on both phonographs.

Tapper says the data he collected “map various qualities of the sun” and that includes some of its chemical makeup.

When users play the phonographs, what they hear are crackly and even screeching sounds.

“They sound noisy but they (the discs) contain interesting information and data,” Tapper said.  

Tapper further said what he was able to do was take a lot of data and compress it into a short period on the discs.

The third and final part of Helios is actually made up of two sections.

One is a small television monitor only a few inches wide and the other component is a wire antenna 10 feet from the monitor that is attached to the ceiling in NAISA and wired to the television. The monitor displays an image from a California desert and Tapper did some digital manipulation to give the image a warpy look. Radio waves captured by the antenna are converted into sounds heard on the television.

Tapper says he created the tripartite exhibit over a period of time and its appearance at NAISA is the first time the entire exhibit has been on display at one site.

Helios will remain at NAISA until April 1 and Tapper hopes to be able to display it at other sites after it leaves South River.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.