Amplifier for Art, Science and Society

Images: Julien Gremaud.

Images: Julien Gremaud.

Cosmic Collisions


Launched on the Discovery space shuttle on 24 April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was the first ever permanent space-based observatory, which continues to stream back pristine visions of the Universe to this day. Orbiting about 547km above Earth’s surface, Hubble collects images in wavelengths of light (from ultraviolet to near infrared) emitted from cosmic objects, ranging from our own solar system to the distant Universe. Hubble has made more than 1 million observations since its mission began 32 years ago.

The latest space-based observatory to be launched, the James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and most technically advanced telescope to date. According to NASA, “Webb’s deeper infrared vision … will cut through the dust and gas of massive clouds where stars and planetary systems form”. Its images will enable scientists to make observations of distant exoplanet atmospheres that will unlock new knowledge about how galaxies have evolved over billions of years. The Webb Space Telescope was launched on the European Space Agency's rocket Ariane 5 on 25 December 2021, its first images were released on 12 July 2022, including Stephan's Quintet, the Carina Nebula, and the Southern Ring Nebula.

Cosmic Collisions showcases more than 500 Hubble images as well as some of the latest releases from the Webb Space Telescope in an interactive application presented in Cupola, a state-of-the-art visualization dome. Developed in EPFL’s eM+ laboratory, the Cupola is a hemispherical infrastructure specifically designed to augment human perception by combining a dual-projector negative pressure system at 4k, with 5.1 surround sound for enhanced sensory and spatial immersion.

Armed with a tablet, up to two viewers in the group of spectators reclined beneath the Cupola can select an image from Hubble and Webb collections on a mirrored display of the dome that is populated with miniature “bubbles”. Dragging one of the bubbles from the periphery to centre explodes the image so that it occupies the entire hemisphere and immerses the group in an awesome spectacle of the cosmos.