The Art of Making Science Dance

02/25/2011 02:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Images obtained from scientific instruments: what makes some of them dance with visual delight? Most pictures from microscopes or telescopes are analyzed as data, in the hopes of eventually answering hard questions: what is "dark energy"? how did life arise on earth?

Recently, however, artists and scientists are seeking to understand the relation between their fields. The daddy of this quest is Nikon's "small world" contest. Likewise, some of the descriptions on the Hubble telescope site are phrased in unmistakeably aesthetic terms. For example, the image called "Still Life with NGC 2170" shows a nebula 15 light years wide, but it is described as being "like the common household items still-life painters often choose for their subjects." (How do you like them apples?)

Here are some astonishing images:

The Art of Making Science Dance