Celestial Mechanics


Animation for Planetarium Dome, 30min
By D. Scott Hessels and Gabriel L. Dunne

Celestial Mechanics is a planetarium-based artwork installation that visualizes the statistics, data, and protocols of manmade aerial technologies -- a graphic display of the paths and functions of the machines hovering, flying, and drifting above our planet. The sky is filled with aircraft that transport people from place to place, perform utilitarian duties, assist in communications, enact military missions, or wander above us as debris. Celestial Mechanics combines science, statistical display, and contemporary art by presenting these mechanical patterns and behaviors as a celestial mythology. The artwork is intended to be viewed in a planetarium dome, and as time permits the authors, it is updated.



At any given moment, there can be over 30,000 manmade objects in the sky above us: Planes, helicopters, satellites, weather balloons, space debris, and other diverse technologies. They watch, they guide, they protect, they communicate, they transport, they predict, they look out into the stars. In less than 100 years, the deep blue has become a complex web of machinery.

Our lives are closely tied to these networks in the sky, but a disjunction has occurred between us and the aerial technologies we use every day. We rarely consider the hulking, physical machines that have now become core to our lifestyle. By not being aware of the hardware we use every day, we may also not be aware of the social, economic, cultural, and political importance of these technologies. By visualizing them, it may lead to a better understanding of the forces that are shaping our future.

However, our understanding of this mechanical chaos is so closely tied to the scale of it all - beyond global - that visualization proves limiting. Computers can now collect massive amounts of data, but our display systems are struggling to keep up. Scale is part of information, yet we continue to reduce and enlarge everything in our increasingly well-documented world to small resolutions. Our glowing screens cannot present any of the phenomenology of the data... that awe that scale inspires. Planetariums give us a way to visualize a complex system without losing the emotion of the data. Scale creates wonder, and we should not separate our feelings from the statistics... they help us understand them.

Geostationary Satelites

Airline Flight Patterns

Aaron Koblin's "Flight Patterns" and all its various forms and iterations was derived from the 2005 copyrighted artwork "Celestial Mechanics" created by Scott Hessels and Gabriel Dunne.

GPS Satelites

Installation for UCLA MFA Show

Installation for SIGGRAPH NVidia Dome


Created By

D. Scott Hessels
Gabriel Dunne


Gabriel Dunne
Eric Keller
Aaron Koblin
Christopher McKee
Jarrett Quon

Sound Design

Christopher Barnett

Poster Design

Matthew Goldman

Thanks To

UCLA Design | Media Arts
Evans and Sutherland
The Federal Aviation Administration
Glendale Community College Planetarium
The Griffith Observatory
RLM Software and FlightView Data
The Elumenati, LLC
Aircraft Data derived from FlightView data of RLM Software © 2005 All Rights Reserved

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