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speculative astrophysics


Ringmind is an ongoing interdisciplinary arts-humanities-science project about the self-organising powers of planetary rings.  It is a collaboration between Sociology, Physics and the School of Computing and Communication at Lancaster University and independent digital artists.  It is an exercise in radical interdisciplinarity: one that combines ideas and ways of working from different disciplines in ways that do not subordinate one to the another.

Ringmind is a research project: we draw on astrophysics, philosophy, unconventional computing, speculative astrobiology and the digital arts to generate new ideas about the powers of simple matter to self-organise when divided into particles and moving and interacting under orbital conditions.

Ringmind is also an exercise in outreach and engagement: we are exploring how the digital arts and humanities can be used to enable diverse audiences to engage with the complex phenomena generated by planetary ring systems, and with philosophical questions about material self-organisation, life and consciousness.  

Ringmind has received financial support from Lancaster University, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) and Arts Council England.


At the heart of the Ringmind project are computer simulations of planetary ring dynamics based on the physics of how swarms of objects in orbit interact with each other. We have created the simulations in Processing, in a way that allows us to run them, and generate different visualisations and sonifications, in real time.  This allows us to alter parameters such as ring density, moonlet mass and orbital radius, but also to interact directly with the system in response to its behaviour.  

We use our simulations to produce phenomena that are observed to occur in rings like those around Saturn; this enables us to check and calibrate our simulations against how planetary rings actually behave.  It also enables viewers of the simulation to see ring dynamics such as edge-waves evolving in real time, and fly through and around them.

But we also use our simulations to explore a more speculative question: what can a planetary ring do?  What kinds of ring dynamics might occur under conditions different to those around Saturn: with different mass, size, shape, composition or density of particles, or under different strengths of gravitational field?  Would it be possible to create artificial ring systems, or enhance existing ones, in ways that enable them to exhibit more complex and self-propagating forms of self-organisation?  Can planetary rings evolve – become capable of new kinds of behaviour?  


Chris Lawson / Ashley James Brown


The Ringmind team has created live performances using visualisations and sonifications of our ring simulations. 

Our first performance, What kind of things can become a “we”?, took place at the event Life Forms at the Haus der Kulteren der Welt, Berlin on 25 April 2019. In our half-hour performance we used the science-fiction idea of a future space mission that has discovered a sentient planetary ring system – a ‘type-3 ringmind’ – around a distant planet.  In the show, while the narration unfolded, the ringmind was generated ‘live’ on a computer, and we used live coding to generate 2D visuals on a large screen, and eight-channel 3D spatial audio that surrounded the audience with rotating sounds. 

At Full of Noise (now called Festival of Noises), held in Barrow-in-Furness, UK in August 2019, digital artists Ashley James Brown and Tony Doyle explored the wider potential of the Ringmind simulations to generate stunning visual patterns and spatial audio.

Watch this space for news of future performances!


The Ringmind team also hold public outreach and engagement events.  Team members are present to demonstrate our different simulations – on screens and on 3D VR goggles – and to explain both their grounding in the scientific understanding of the formation and dynamics of planetary rings, and how we can use them to explore speculative questions.

Our outreach events include: 
- Ring life, exhibited at Light Up Lancaster, Lancaster City Library, Lancaster, UK, 1-2 November 2019.
- Ringmind demonstration: astrophysics, computing, art and speculative thought with planetary rings, Lancaster University, 30 June 2022.

We also like to involve students in our work. Since 2019 we have had seven students or recent graduates completing projects based on our work, working both on the physics simulations themselves and the user interface.  If you work in education and are interested in getting your students to do projects based on our simulations – or are a student or independent coder and would like to get involved – get in touch and we can discuss sharing the code with you.t

Public engagement - Beth and Natty closeup


To experience the full complexity of our simulations of self-organising processes in planetary rings, you really need to experience the Processing code in action at a Ringmind performance or outreach event.  But the Ringmind team have also created some interactive experiences that will give you a taste of our work, giving you the opportunity to move around inside a simulated ring-and-moon system, and experience how things move in orbit. 

Firstly, click the button to the left to launch a simulation ring-and-moon system, right in your web browser.  You will be able to stand on moon orbiting within the rings, or fly around within the ring system, and look around, using your keyboard and mouse. 

Secondly, you can download this as an application for your desktop for Windows 10 or MAC OSX. These versions operate the same as the browser experience, however they are not approved for distribution. Download and allow at your own risk – we accept no responsibility.


Thirdly, if you have an Android phone you can download our 3D Virtual Reality app – this is always very popular at our engagement events! To view it properly on your phone you will need a Google Cardboard viewer – use the button on the viewer or click on your screen to fly between planets and moons.  (This app is an ANDROID only BETA version created by the Ringmind team and as such is not currently in the AppStores. All user feedback will be helpfully considered in creating the final version.  You will need to allow Non-Appstore Apps to install this Beta. Download at your own risk – we accept no responsibility.)


The core Ringmind team is:

Bronislaw Szerszynski: Concept and Direction

Chris Arridge: Astrophysics

Leandro Soriano Marcolino: Swarm Computing

For more information, email Bronislaw Szerszynski at

The initial realisation of the Ringmind project also depended heavily on collaboration with two

digital artists, funded by Arts Council England:

Ashley James Brown: Visualisation / Interaction Design

Tony Doyle: Digital Spatial Audio

Over the years, Ringmind has also benefited greatly from a series of internships and student

projects, involving:

Thomas Cann

Jake Fenn

Sam Hinson

Chris Lawson

Luigi Lin

Aaron Patel

Alex Stanhope


Ringmind has received financial support from Lancaster University, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) and Arts Council England. 

Original website design, and all images unless otherwise credited, by Ashley James Brown

Want to find out more? Email Bronislaw Szerszynski on