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Archive for February, 2007

Free Astronomy and Space Exploration Courses

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

A star going supernova
Image: Fate of the Sister by Jim Plaxco. A depiction of a binary star system in which one of the stars has gone supernova. Original image size: 27 x 21 inches.

I recently discovered a great collection of free online courses being offered by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Known as MIT OpenCourseWare, it consists of complete courses in a wide variety of disciplines. You don’t even have to register – just download the files to your computer. The courses provide lecture notes, review problems, quizzes, and solutions using a combination of html, xml, and pdf files.

What caught my eye were the Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Physics sections. Classes in the Physics section that I downloaded are:

Closer to home the section Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences contains a number of interesting courses including:

Lastly, for the budding rocket scientist there is in the Aeronautics and Astronautics section the following courses:

In fact there is easily more than enough material available to keep the enquiring mind busy for years. My advice: go forth and learn.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Classic Science Fiction Videos and Future Predictions at SciFi DriveIn

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

The Voyage to the Moon
Scene from Le Voyage Dans La Lune

I just discovered the SciFi DriveIn and it’s collection of old, old science fiction movies, serials, and non-fiction predictions of the future. It’s great to be able to watch these old classics online – though you’re going to need a high speed connection.

The first video I watched was in the section labeled Misc which is actually the most interesting as it consists of a selection of old non-fiction videos. Leave it to Roll-oh! was an entertaining look at the future of robots with an excursion into the importance of machines in everyday life.

Next was The Big Bounce, a film about Project Echo. Echo was an inflated aluminum coated balloon 10 stories tall that was launched packed inside a 26 inch sphere. Once in orbit, transmissions were aimed at Echo from New Jersey, bounced off, and were received in Goldstone CA.

Project Echo Balloon in Hanger
Project Echo balloon inflated in its hanger

I watched this video with interest as one of the few memories I have of my father, who passed away while I was still a child, was his taking me into the back yard to watch Echo 2 as it passed overhead. Echo 2 was launched into an 85.5-deg inclination orbit on January 25, 1964.

Heading over to the Serials section, I turned my neurons off and watched Radar Men From the Moon: Moon Rocket featuring Commando Cody who, with his trusty but aerodynamically impossible jet-pack backpack, must stop an invasion of the Earth. Yep, human agents employed by the evil lunar dictator are using an atomic ray to wreck havoc and prepare the way for an invasion from the moon.

Finally I headed over to the Movies section and was able to watch for the first time Le Voyage Dans La Lune in its entirety. This classic science fiction short was made in 1902 by Georges Melies and is generally considered to be the first science fiction movie. The movie was chock full of special effects. My favorite effect had to be the bonking of the moon men who, upon being whacked, vanished in a puff of smoke.

Earthrise Over the Moon
Earthrise over a bizarre lunar landscape.

What I found most fascinating about the movie was Melies’ depiction of the lunar surface, shown above. It reminded me somewhat of the lunar features that illustrated the classic James Nasmyth and James Carpenter book “The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite”, first published in 1874. It must be said that those depictions are far more naturalistic than Melies’.

Get yourself some popcorn, get comfortable, and take a trip over to the SciFi DriveIn for some old time sci-fi.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Color Recording in Motion

Thursday, February 8th, 2007
Color Recording in Motion
Color Recordings in Motion By Jim Plaxco, 15″ x 23″

I was looking through one of my recent issues of Art in America and came across an abstract artwork by Kathryn Refi titled Color Recordings, Day 3. Seeing the picture, I instantly thought of a Photoshop noise gradient. Googling, I found another piece by Refi – Color Recordings, Day 1 which appears to be the same as the Day 3 piece.

Curious, I challenged myself to come up with something similar. Experimenting with the Photoshop gradient tool I came to the conclusion that gradients were not the way to go. I manually created a piece similar to Refi’s. This piece is shown in Figure 1. The technique I used to create this gave me variations in saturation and value which I found pleasing.

Figure 1. The initial version of Color Recording in Motion
Initial Version of Color Recording in Motion

Not happy with a two dimensional look, I experimented with different methods of giving the picture depth. The “waterfall” version shown here is what I was looking for. Pleased with the composition, I felt that additional texture was needed to roughen up the image. While not visible in the small version, Figure 2 shows a small segment of the picture at full resolution.

Figure 2. Color Recording in Motion Full Resolution Extract
Color Recording in Motion Full Resolution Extract

As I am still far behind on rolling out my Artsnova art gallery, I decided to add a larger version of this piece to a gallery I created on DeviantART a couple years ago. This will actually be my first addition to my gallery there since initially populating it with two images of Mars. So if you are interested in seeing a larger version of this image, then see my DeviantART Gallery entry Color Recording in Motion.

Ad Astra, Jim

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A Gallery Full of Space Settlement Art

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007
Islands of the Gods Orbital Settlement by Richard Bizley
Islands of the Gods Orbital Settlement by Richard Bizley

It’s been three months since I originally wrote about the National Space Society’s Space Settlement Art Contest. The art submission period closed a couple days ago and the process of judging the entries has already begun. Seventy submissions made it through the screening process. There was actually a rather large number of submissions that were rejected. The most common reason for rejection was that the artwork failed to meet the contest’s subject and realism requirements. Perhaps most surprising was that the submitted images were spread so equally across the four contest categories: Asteroid Settlements, Mars Settlements, Moon Settlements, and Orbital Settlements. We were sure that we would be overwhelmed with pictures featuring Moon and Mars settlements. Also suprisng was that the Asteroid and Orbital categories appear to be the overall strongest.

Of the accepted entries, about 90 percent were created using software and 10 percent created using traditional art media. For software, I was not surprised to see that Bryce was the most commonly used 3D graphics package. I was especially pleased to see so many Lightwave submissions as that is the 3D software I am currently in the process of learning. There were also a few submissions using Pandromeda’s Mojoworld software, an exceptional 3D package specialized for the creation of planets. I myself am a user of Mojoworld and Pandromeda was the first sponsor of our contest – thanks to the courtesy of Ken Musgrave.

The work of space artists has always been an important component of space exploration. The artist’s ability to envision a spacefaring future and to then protray that vision in such a way that others can see the possibilites of the future is crucial to helping people understand what a spacefaring civilization is all about. Recognizing the importance of imagery, NSS activists decided that a space settlement art contest would be a great way to achieve several objectives:

  • getting artists interested in portraying space settlements,
  • establishing an online art gallery to help people understand space settlements,
  • producing a space settlement calendar to more widely spread the idea of a spacefaring future.

In looking over the entries in the gallery, I am quite struck by the imagination exhibited by the artists relative to portraying our future in space. For example, in the Moon Settlement category, there is The Soaring Arena by Bill Wright which features Lunarians donning wings for human-powered flight around the lunar dome. In the Orbital Settlement category, we have Inside Orbital City by Murphy Elliott with a colorful biker on what is an apparently juiced-up jet-bike, not to mention Richard Bizley’s romantic Islands of the Gods shown at the top of this article. Perhaps the most emotional of the submissions is to be found in the Mars Settlements category. The piece Mars from a Young Perspective by Javier Arizabalo is simply a picture of a young boy out on the surface of Mars with a calm thoughtful look on his face as a spaceship takes flight in the background. I wonder what he’s thinking.

Once the judging is over and assembly of the calendar is complete, it is my plan to prepare a presentation summarizing the NSS Space Settlement Art Contest and reviewing the associated 2008 Space Settlement Calendar. Likely venues for this presentation are the International Space Development Conference in Dallas and the Duckon Science Fiction Convention in Chicago where, I am proud to say, I am this year’s Science Guest of Honor.

While we do not yet have space settlements, you’ve got to go and check out the NSS Space Settlement Art Contest Gallery to see what a number of artists think that future may look like.

Ad Astra, Jim

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