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Art & Physics Come together in Spectacular SUN Installation

Anyone who has visited St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall will have experienced how the rays of the sun play around within the sandstone building – even more so since the installation of the new entrance doorways.

Christmas tree in St Magnus cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral is known as ‘The Light in the North’ and at this year’s Orkney International Science Festival (7th – 13th September) it will become the setting of a spectacular SUN installation.

Time-lapse photography of the surface of the actual sun, taken by NASA spacecraft are projected onto a 6 metre diameter sphere which will be suspended from the Cathedral’s crossing . Speeded up from weeks to minutes, the filmed sequences show the Sun’s seething fires, its solar storms building and erupting, the surging flow of energy pouring from the nuclear fires of hydrogen. Visitors to the Cathedral each day through the Festival period will be able to stand below to follow the dramatic changes on the solar surface.

The SUN installation is the outcome of a collaboration between an artist and a solar physicist. Artist Alex Rinsler worked with solar physicist Prof. Robert Walsh of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). Prof. Walsh will be in Orkney for the full seven days of the SUN, at the Cathedral at various times to provide information about the Sun itself and the fiery storms on its surface. He will also provide a solar narrative to accompany a Sunday evening concert where electronic music will be interwoven with choral voices, instruments, and cathedral organ.

St Magnus Cathedral Custodian Fran Hollinrake said:

“Having the SUN in St Magnus Cathedral will be absolutely amazing; the warm glow of the SUN and the red sandstone of the cathedral will fuse together beautifully.

“The building is nearly 900 years old and will have seen all sorts of spectacles over nine centuries, but I think this is something extraordinary. For both local people and visitors it will be a spectacle, and as well as inviting questions about science and cosmology, it will also raise philosophical questions about our place in the solar system and wider universe.”

The SUN is the centrepiece of this year’s Orkney International Science Festival. Now in its 33rd year, it’s the oldest science festival outside Edinburgh and its speakers over the years have included Peter Higgs and Jane Goodall. This year’s programme includes over 90 events, with topics ranging from AI and robotics to nutritional values of traditional crops and genetic links of island families. The Festival’s art/science activities this year include an art/mathematics day at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness and two science shows involving the legendary western group, Riders in the Sky.

St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall
Image credit Kenny Armet

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