Created during October 2022

The Essence of Us

“The Essence of Us” is a subtly moving data art piece that asks the question “What defines Human Culture?” through the lens of the 5000+ exoplanets that have been discovered since the first in 1992. Data about the exoplanets is mapped to every visual aspect that you see. Earth, Us, is symbolically placed us in the center, and every spiral around it is one exoplanet. My intent was to create a slowly moving piece that you can stare into and wonder about that initial question, what defines human culture as a whole? This piece is still available for sale

A mockup of a still image from Essence of Us
A zoom-in on a portion of The Essence of Us without the grain or chromatic aberration applied

What is it that makes us human? Is there a “human” culture?

In the 1960s the “Drake equation” was formulated to try and estimate the number of intelligent, communicating, alien civilizations in our Milky Way. Since then it has led scientists to question the very nature of ourselves by trying to understand problems such as the probability that a planet that can support life would actually develop it. Although many factors of the equation are highly uncertain, leading to a wide range of possible answers, the very first educated guess made in the 60s estimated there to be in the order of 10,000 civilizations.

With the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992, a planet outside our Solar system, we got a step closer to understanding more about our Universe, and about ourselves. Since then almost 5100 exoplanets have been found, ranging from massive giants to those that appear Earth-like and could possibly sustain life.

This piece places us, Earth, at its center and “spins” all the 5,084 exoplanets around it (discovered as of August 30th, 2022). Using the data gathered about the planet to determine its placement and appearance, such as the planet’s size, orbital period, the temperature of its (main) host star, and more. These 5,084 are only the very tip of the iceberg. With billions more, yet undiscovered planets in our Milky Way, it feels inevitable that we are not alone out here. Perhaps one of these discovered planets already has life flourishing on it.

If we are indeed one of thousands of intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way, how would other civilizations see us? What defines “human culture”?

What is it that makes us human?

This piece is still available for sale

A zoom-in on a portion of The Essence of Us without the grain applied