Beauty of tiny bits of moon under the microscope

Instead of looking at the moon through a telescope, some got the chance to observe it more closely through a microscope.

Instead of looking at the moon through a telescope, some got the chance to observe it more closely through a microscope.

An art exhibition presenting the theme – lunar soil scientific research achievement – was unveiled in the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing on Saturday, this year's Mid-Autumn Festival.

By means of microphotography, image fusion and processing, three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction and virtual reality (VR) technology, the exhibition shows over 100 images and videos of lunar soil particles to the public.

The soil photographed was among the 1,731 grams of lunar samples retrieved from the moon's surface by Chang'e-5.

Finer than hair

"The size of the lunar soil particles is finer than a hair, so it cannot be observed at all without the help of advanced microscopic equipment," said Yang Wei, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

As one of the few people who get access to the lunar soil, Yang was attracted by its beauty while doing scientific research. "But it was impossible for everyone to come to the lab to see it," he said. So he decided to photograph the lunar soil for the public.

It was quite a challenging project. The particles are so small that they could fly away in the earth's air. Yang had to figure out a method to hold the tiny particles in place and create a suitable environment for photographing.

Moreover, to achieve the ideal exhibition effect, Yang had to take hundreds of partial photos of each particle under the electron microscope, and then merge the photos together.

Throughout the process, he worked with artists from CAFA to present the photographs in an aesthetic manner. He also cooperated with engineers from the Institute of Computing Technology of CAS to make a 3D reconstruction of the particle.

They simulated the intensity and angle of sunlight at noon in the Chang'e-5 landing zone to present what these lunar soil particles would have looked like in situ on the moon.

"We have an artistic display of the reconstructed 3D model of the lunar soil, combined with VR and augmented reality (AR) technology, so that the public can interact with the lunar soil particles and feel the beauty of the lunar soil through their mobile phones or computers," said Gao Lin, an associate researcher at the Institute of Computing Technology of CAS.

Beauty of science

In the exhibition hall, an image of lunar soil that resembles a puppy in form attracted many visitors' attention.

"This unique soil can not be found on the earth. It's called an agglutinate," Yang explained. For him, every grain of lunar soil tells a story of what once happened on the moon.

"Through this puppy-like agglutinate, we could infer that on the moon, where there is no atmosphere, the tiny meteorites hit the lunar surface at high speed and formed small glass particles, which then stuck with other mineral particles into various odd-shaped agglutinates," he said.

"For many people, lunar soil is a distant mystery, and we hope to unravel this mystery through exhibitions like this," he said.

For the visitors coming to the exhibition, besides the charm of science, a sense of the art of the lunar soil is equally fascinating.

People were surprised to find that once magnified and processed by scientists, every lunar soil particle has its own unique patterns and hues. People can use their imagination to recognize flowers, butterflies and stars in various images.

"It is amazing that the tiny lunar soil particles contain such a rich world. This implies the infinite possibilities for the integration of art and technology," said Wang Yi, a member of the exhibition planning and creation team at the CAFA.

Yang said that they would make more attempts to integrate science and art. "After all, scientific exploration stimulates artistic creation, and in turn, artistic imagination inspires scientific research," he added.

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