NEW YORK – Residents of New York City's five boroughs (and even that far away land, New Jersey) viewed the intersection of science and nature earlier this month, with a skyscraper-sized cryptic message causing many eyes to gaze upward.
During "Manhattanhenge" -- an astronomical event around the summer solstice when the sunset is aligned with Manhattan's east–west streets -- an artist and advertiser collaborated to write Pi in the sky. Artist Ben Davis, founder of San Francisco-based Illuminate the Arts, and AirSign Aerial Advertising CEO Patrick Walsh conspired to write the first 314 characters of the mathematical constant across New York City.
Photo by Ben Davis
"I wanted to take this phrase that meant impossible, and make it real," Davis told the New York Post.
A team of five pilots flew back and forth along 42nd Street, then east above 34th Street to simultaneously write the numerals using a specially developed system for digital skywriting. A wireless signal transmitted between the aircraft synchronized smoke output and allowed for creation of a 30-character message in less than two minutes; each numeral was a quarter-mile tall.
"Pi in the Sky captivated a lot of New York City and could be seen anywhere from The Bronx to lower Manhattan; people from Staten Island and New Jersey were posting pictures," Walsh told EE Times. "In less than an hour we were able to blanket the skies over NYC."
The street grid for most of Manhattan is rotated 29 degrees from true east-west, and when the sun is aligned 29 degrees north of west as it was July 12, those gazing west can see the sunset slightly above the horizon and in between the profiles of buildings. The unique position of the sunset caused the numbers in the sky to change color from white, to orange and red, and eventually to black.
"But it's only when we add Art -- when STEM becomes STEAM -- that the sciences are enlivened with the creativity that results in significant innovation," Davis said. "Steam drove the Industrial Revolution, and STEAM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math -- will drive the Information Age. That's the message."
Walsh noted that the five planes used a vegetable-based oil substance to create smoke. The smoke leaves no toxins or chemicals in the atmosphere and each plane emits less than a standard automobile.
Although there are no plans for future Pi-related skywriting ventures, Walsh said there has been talk about moving the aerial writing team to an international location.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times