Excerpts from the Preface of Alien Vision
The inspiration for Alien Vision came from two other illustrated science books that I have long admired. Both are visual explorations of nature that use imaging technology to transcend the limitations of human visual perception.
The first is Powers of Ten, by Phillip and Phylis Morrison, which takes the reader on a pictorial journey through 40 powers of ten in size scale, starting with a one-meter square image of a couple sleeping on a park lawn. Each successive section of the book changes the size of the image by a factor of ten, zooming out to view the park, then Chicago, then Lake Michigan, then North America, then Earth; and so on, until finally the square image is so large that it encompasses a multitude of galaxies. Then the "camera" zooms in on the man's hand, on a mosquito feeding there, then on bacteria on the mosquito, and so on; stopping at the subatomic particles whirling around in the nucleus of a single atom. There is also a movie version of this book available that includes a sequence where the observer rushes in from viewing distant clusters of galaxies to the hand of the sleeping man! Powers of Ten explores nature in the scale domain, exploring size scales that are much larger and much smaller than the size scale of human visual perception.
The second book is Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton. The photographs in this book show commonplace events captured with high-speed cameras using electronic flash units and special shutters invented by Prof. Edgerton and his colleagues at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Events that happen in thousandths or millionths of a second are captured on film: a bullet passing through an apple, the first atomic bomb test an instant after detonation, a football player kicking a football. The work of Edgerton is an exploration of images of the world in the time domain. The Eames Office, makers of the film version of Powers of Ten, have also produced a film called the Powers of Time which explores the universe in 37 orders of magnitude of time, from the tiny attosecond to 31 billion years. These time scales are much shorter and much longer than the time scale of human visual perception.
My idea was to apply this same idea of a visual exploration of the universe to the electromagnetic spectrum itself, which could be considered the domain of wavelength. Instead of exploring the universe in many size or time scales, my book would take the reader on a tour of all the possible "colors" of light, from long-wavelength radio waves to extremely short gamma rays. These are wavelengths of light that are much longer and much shorter than the narrow wavelength range of human visual perception. It would be as though the readers had a knob on their heads that they could tune like a radio dial and change the "color response" of their eyes out of the visible spectrum and into the infrared, ultraviolet, and beyond.
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