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Katie Paterson: A map of every dead star in the Universe

Video transcript

Hi, my name's Katie. I've got a piece of work All the Dead Stars in the Tate Britain Altermodern show. It's a large map, 3 x 2 m. I've basically mapped all the dead stars in the universe, or all what could be considered dead stars that have ever been observed and recorded by people since the beginning of time, effectively. So there's just under 27,000 different kinds of dead stars, but they are all just represented as dots, and they are laser etched on black anodysed aluminium. Collecting all the data and meeting the astronomers and getting all that massive amount of information was actually the easy bit. I kind of started the work by emailing or tracking down about a hundred different supernova hunters, as they are called, people who track down dead stars, and astrophysicists, and astronomers, and I just wrote them all an email kind of asking if a map like this exists already, and if not, how on earth I could go about it. My map doesn't accurately represent all the dead stars in the whole universe. It represents what we have seen and recorded, because in reality as one astronomer told me, if I actually mapped every single dead star in the universe, the map would be as big as the earth, because there s billions you know, there s like one supernova explodes in every galaxy every hundred years, and over the whole history of the universe, so basically they are exploding every couple of seconds somewhere in the universe, so there would be no way to make a map of all of them. [University College London Observatory] Professor Ofer Lahav: Some astronomers are interested in the stars as stars. Their own physics, birth, life and death. Other astronomers utilise them. They say, Nature put those light bulbs there for us, let s use them, and learn about the universe we live in. I was trying to decide whether I should be deciphering between visible objects or totally invisible objects, because even though I had this idea of dead stars, okay, you would think there s nothing behind - but there is - there is still, you know, there s either these planetary nebulae which you can still see, or even a black hole, like you said, it's still got life. And in the end I just decided not to make any differentiations between all of them and just have this kind of mass of dead stars. The boundaries between life and death are a bit fuzzy here. Plus this aspect that really, the end of one object might be really the beginning of another object, and in fact the stuff we are made of, the iron that is in our blood is probably originated or was cooked in a dying star. So how remarkable that life on earth was basically facilitated by the end point of life of a star. I don't really think of the works as having end points exactly. I also think of all of these parts as totally part and parcel of the work. So I kind of quite like this idea that there is still this fairly large map with 27,000 dots, but even that is just a tiny amount of what actually exists, so it is quite a futile attempt to map everything, which just can't ever really be done.