THE AWAD POWER-OF-TEN MODEL ------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 1988 June 1
The City of New York is now home of an awesome new exhibit demonstrating the power-of-ten size scale of the universe. The model was unveiled by its creator George Awad on Sunday 1 May 1985 before delegates from selected astronomy and space orgs, including the Planetary Society. I represented the AAA at this opening. Mr Awad [AK-wod] is a prominent model-builder for architects and designers. He built, for example, the renditions of the four-corners Times Square project and the twin-tower housing estate next to the Queensborough Bridge. The models are used by the clients for promoting their projects and testing their designs. He conceived of an astronomical model some four years ago to visualize the size and scale of the cosmos, he being an amateur astronomer. With assistance from several AAAers, consultancy from Dr Sam Palmer, and advice from outside astronomers, George Awad put together what no one ever yet could: a credible, honest, accurate depiction of the cosmic scale. On my arrival, George ushered me and the others in my elevator to a reception room fitted out with a bar and snack spread. I partook and mingled with the crowd, which all told numbered about 100. The exhibit was screened from casual peeking in a darkened room behind an opaque curtain. George egged us to go inside. We came onto a prospect of softly luminescent globes, wires, artifacts, all enveloped in a matrix of glittering points. George whisked us to the headend of the room. As we got dark adapted we saw over us, a mite above head-height, a lattice of wireframe boxes stretching off about 20 meters downroom and expanding crosswise about 10 meters. At places in the lattice the boxes were stacked down to waist level. Each cell was about 400 mm cube. Awad narrated for us. The first cell, at the head of the model, contained the two books "Power of Ten" and "Cosmos" in lifesize, scale 1:1, lit suffusely by bulbs concealed in the cell's frame. The next box, in walking down the model, had a model automobile, this being 1/10 the scale of the first box. As we walked downroom, box by box, the scale compressed tenfold, to enclose a city, a county, a state, the United States, and the whole globe of the Earth. Parallel to this main stream of cells were others housing additional examples of scale. The Moon was shown first as a crater against a terrestrial city, then as a mare next to a state, then as the full orb side by side with the United States. Also accompanying the city were the two moons of Mars. The Earth, as a globe, stood shoulder to shoulder with the other inner planets and the larger moons of the Jovian planets. That is to say, specimens at the same scale were arrayed in cells across and down all in one plane at each station along the model. Due to the plentiful examples of scale in the solar system, the planets zone of the Awad exhibit was the widest zone. Beyond the Earth the next stations portrayed the Jovian planets, complete with satellites and rings and the smaller, solar-sized, stars. Next were the planet orbits themselves, comet orbits, and the giant stars. And then came the entire solar system all in one cell. In many cells was a tiny box, 1/10 its size, encompassing the region covered by the corresponding box in the previous station. At this station, the solar system, the model got dark and empty. It takes several orders of scale before encountering the next inhabitants of the cosmos, the nearest stars. These appeared several stations farther along as nitid points dancing in their cells. One box contained eight points in no particular pattern. Going one step farther out we saw stars in clusters and clouds. From one cell here hung a string at noselevel. It was an optical fiber whose glowing tip signaled its presence. Putting the bridge of my nose against this tip and looking back up at the eight-star cell, saw the Big Dipper in space, including Alcor. The scale compressed step by step to uncover our local association of stars and clusters (and a flashing pulsar); our arm of the Milky Way; the whole Milky Way with blazing core, swirling arms, and orbitIng globular clusters. Other galaxies twirled in adjacent cells, some with satellite milky ways about them. Then the galactic clusters, galactic superclusters, and quasars. Ultimately we saw, at the foot of the exhibit, some 20 meters from our starting point, the great round universe Itself packed with glittering quasars. George nudged me. He pointed out a vacant bay alongside the planets. "That's for any new planets beyond Pluto", he paraphrased. He then nodded to the ultimate cell with the ball of a zillion quasars. "No, look past it." Only a black abyss. No, wait, oh!, the feeblest of blueness seeped into my eyes. "That's for you astronomers here today." As a manmade image of the cosmos, Mr Awad's creation is positively stunning. The solar system section quite faithfully replicates the spaceprobe and telescopic views. To the extent that these images are "real" so the power-of-ten work is real. Curiously, tho, the Earth pieces are stylized, looking much like atlas maps or parlor globes. Outside the solar system, with us lacking "real" views of the stars and remoter galaxies, Awad applied artistic liberty most sensitively. The theme was the demonstration of the cosmic scale in tenfold steps, not the depiction of the actual aspects of everything in the universe. In the stations of the smallest scale, it's the astronomy that breaks down, not Awad's art or science. We plain do not know what geometry applies to the large-scale universe in order to properly translate It into a Euclidean cube at all. And, too, it is hard to pack the infinite cosmos into a 400mm cube, no matter what scale you try. I've seen many efforts to demonstrate the power-of-ten in museums here and there, yet none did the job well. The exhibits were too confined of room, too fake-looking, too shallow of astronomy, too clumsily crafted. Mr Awad had three stupendous advantages over all previous aspirants of the great power-of-ten model. He sought out competent astronomy advice, from the AAA and elsewhere, he treated it professionally, and then he followed it. He was already an accomplished model-crafter with full crew, equipment, and supplies. He had the vast room to fabricate the model and to then exhibit it. This Awad power-of-ten model will instantly become the ardently coveted crown jewel exhibit of science museums thruout the world. Of particular note from the technical angle was the wholesale use of fiber optics, for both luminance and illumination. In the entire construct there was not one offensive exposed lightbulb. All the light was shielded, encased in the globes, or conducted to the point of application by fibers. Quite apart from the immense versatility and flexibility of fiber optics to create the stunning visual effects thru out the length and breadth of the exhibit, the channeling of light from a remote source eradicated one grand curse of conventionally illuminated models: heat. This exhibit, despite the radiance of myriads of spheres and points, was refreshingly cool. No overbearing heat emanated from the Awad work. Due to the sheer vastness of this exhibit I could not stand back and view it all in one shot. It must be wandered thru, station by station. The vision takes in three planes, the instant one under scrutiny and the adjacent ones of 1/lO and 10 times its scale. It would have been informative, as an introduction, to see the whole universe at once. George thought so, so he hung up against a back wall a miniature version of the model. This was around 3m long by 2-1/2m high, as exquisitely crafted as the main work but not as detailed. This, George explained, was the testbed for his fullsize thing. By walking to and fro I could correlate the individual cells not only with their adjacents but with the entire fabric of the universe. This wall version, reasonably compact and rugged, would make a capital travelling exhibit of immense instructional value to all who view it. Astounding as this work was, there were a few minuses. George is aware of them and he has his thinking cap on about them. Remember that the model was Awad's own labor of love built in his shops for his own enjoyment. Only laterly did the notion of exhibiting it publicly come about. There is no narrative or explicative for the model, not even a descriptive leaflet. You have to be already astronomy-wisely to fully appreciate what Awad did. Indeed, the attendants, being largely unversed In astronomy, treated it pretty much as a pizazzy sculpture. I, and other local astronomers on hand, had to give impromptu explanations of the model to small knots of people. The exhibit is in Awad's model-making shops, which themselves are in an inner-city factory block offering few conveniences for off-the- street public traffic. The building Itself is on the frontier next to Paddy's Market. While the streets are quite accommodating by daylight, at night Paddy's ghost has free run of the place. The power-of-ten work is altogether frail and fragile, being that it was constructed after the manner of architectural renditions. There's no way it can be packed up for a road tour or loaned out for outside exhibitions. Also, due to the entirely personalized design and construction, only Awad's own crew can operate and maintain it. In fact, during the exhibition the lights on zones of the model blanked out spontaneously. It was this quick and sure crew, by jumping up into the plenum above the lattice of cells, that got things running again. The Awad power-of-ten exhibit has no scheduled visiting hours. However, a fieldtrip for the AAA is in the works for the summer. Watch EYEPIECE for details to come.