Object Lesson: Aerocene Explorer

Object Lesson is an ongoing blog series that highlights some of the art, artifacts, machines, devices, books, instruments and tools that give physical form to ideas that enhance the MIT campus and community.


What is the Aerocene Explorer?

The Aerocene Explorer is a tethered-flight starter kit for personal solar-powered atmospheric exploration. Inside each portable backpack is everything needed to float an Explorer inflatable sculpture using solar and infrared radiation. Like all of artist Tomás Saraceno’s Aerocene sculptures, the Explorer floats without burning fossil fuels, helium and other rare gases.

The Explorer is designed to engage participants in thinking-through-making and to stimulate imaginative responses to energy independence. The project imparts information about solar balloon flight, thermodynamics, meteorology and art practices in a multidisciplinary way.  Equipped with sensors, the sculptures can also be used to measure atmospheric data or to understand wind currents.


Who made it?

In 2015, CAST Visiting Artist Tomás Saraceno began collaborating with MIT EAPS meteorologist Lodovica Illari, Professor Glenn Flierl and researcher Bill McKenna. Together they developed inflatable technology using principles of atmospheric physics, relying on infrared/solar radiation from the Sun during the day and from the Earth at night. Aerocene draws attention to the environmental impacts of air pollution and carbon emissions.


How did he make it?

Detailed materials lists and instructions to make your own Explorer kit are available on the Aerocene website:

“How to build the Aerocene Explorer envelope”

“How to assemble the Aerocene Explorer sensing devices pack”


When and where can I see it?

From April 19-21, 2018, there will be several opportunities to participate in Aerocene flights and to learn more about the project at MIT. The panel discussion, “Aerocene and the Future in a Fossil-Free World” takes place on Thursday, April 19, 2018 from 6:00-7:30pm in MIT Building 10-250. Then, the “Aerocene Explorer Performance & Interactive Display with MIT Visiting Artist Tomás Saraceno and EAPS Scientists” takes place on April 20-21, 2018, from 11:00am-2:00pm in Killian Court.

Visit the Aerocene events page to learn more about these and other current programs.


Why is it significant?

Aerocene Explorer’s value is both practical and aspirational. The Explorer allows participants to take aerial photographs and videos and to collect atmospheric data using non-intrusive, emissions-free scientific exploration tools that measure air quality, temperature, humidity, and pressure. For artist Tomás Saraceno, these emission-free floating sculptures prompt us to “speculate on how mobility shapes the way we live on the earth.”



Posted on March 27, 2018 by Sharon Lacey