Celestial Sphere

Research output: Non-textual formArtefact


For the Upper English Street Art Commission I have created an artwork, which refers to Armagh’s specific global alignment in relation to the heavens. The main feature of the work is a large two-meter diameter sphere made from solid polished grey granite, onto which the major magnitude stars have been mapped. The sphere with it’s gold stars is aligned to the north and its axis points to the pole star, in this way the star sphere functions like a kind of fixed Armillary or Celestial Sphere.The star map over the surface of the sphere was created with the help of Emeritus Professor John Oliver from the Department of Astronomy, University of Florida as well as Tomasz Gren and Declan Grand at S. Mc Connell & Sons Ltd., of Kilkeel. The stars are created in gold glass mosaic set into the surface of the sphere to represent the brightest stars.The Celestial Sphere is set on top of the largest of four grey granite slabs. Imagery, text, diagrams and other data has been engraved into the surfaces of these four slabs. This visual material has been derived from the history of Astronomy from the earliest times up to the present, spanning some five millennia. A significant part of this data was sourced during my research with staff, and the archives, of the Armagh Observatory to whom I am very grateful.I decided to illustrate four eras of astronomical history one on each of the four base stones. The first stone is the ‘ancient ‘stone with imagery and information from ancient stone carvings in Ireland, the Middle East, Far East, as well as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The second stone, which supports the sphere, measures two meters square. On the upper surface of this stone and around the base of the sphere, I have portrayed a Zodiac, which is aligned to the sky at New Years Eve. The Zodiac image is made up from differing representations of the Constellation figures from Ancient times up until the Renaissance Period. This surface also maps out the sunrise and sunsets as seen in Armagh at the Summer & Winter Solstices and at the Vernal & Autumnal Equinox, as well as the position of the Planets as seen at New Year 2010. The imagery around the vertical facets of this stone refers to the history of Astronomy loosely from the medieval period up until the Renaissance and includes references to Astronomers such as Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo.The third stone slab depicts aspects of astronomical history from the Renaissance period up to the seventeen hundreds including astronomers and physicists such as Hevelius, Herschel, Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton.The imagery of the fourth stone refers to key discoveries and scientists up to the present including Hubble, and Einstein as well as key aspects from the history and contemporary research at Armagh Observatory.I have also created several images within the artwork that utilise a kind of distorted perspective, known as ‘Anamorphic projection’. This is where an image is laid down on a surface and appears distorted and skewed out of shape so as it can only be seen properly from one perspective or view point. This playfully refers to the concept of seeking new points of view or perspectives and is aligned to the process of seeking new knowledge.In setting out some of the imagery as ‘anamorphic images’ I hope to promote public interaction. The viewer will see some distorted images on the slabs, and perhaps may not know what they are or what they mean, but once he or she moves around the sculpture they can potentially see one of these distorted images come into it’s correct alignment or perspective. This playful interaction will hopefully be of specific interest to children.Several of the stone slabs have curved cuts, referring to the negative space occupied by the sphere. This alludes to the possible hidden dimensions, or other space(s) beyond our Universe, or beyond what we can see or currently understand.I have integrated two living trees within the artwork. I see these very much as significant features within the design and concept of the sculpture as they refer to cosmic mythology and perhaps even pointers to the true nature of the Universe.The artist would like to thank the following people for their input and vital assistance during the design, creation and production of the artwork:Mark Bailey - Director of the Armagh ObservatoryStefano Bagnulo and other staff at the Armagh ObservatoryEmeritus Professor John Oliver – Dept. of Astronomy, the University of FloridaAlan Mc Connell – Director & Estimator, S. McConnell & Sons Ltd.Tomasz Gren - CNC Operator at “ “ “ “Declan Grand - Artisan & Shot-Blaster at “ “ “ “Annette Hennessy – ArtistCathie McKimm – Project Co-ordinator for Armagh City & District CouncilMembers of the Armagh Arts CommitteeStaff and Officials at the Armagh City & District CouncilThe Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUpper English Street, Armagh City, Northern Ireland.
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Dec 2010

Bibliographical note

Outputmediatype: Sculpture - Public Sculpture/Public Artwork


  • Celestial Sphere
  • Astronomical Artwork
  • Public Sculpture
  • Public Art
  • Northern Irish Public Art
  • Armagh Observatory
  • History of Astronomy in Art
  • Brian Connolly
  • Space represented in Art


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