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Archive for February, 2009

Illinois Senate Battles for Planet Pluto

Thursday, February 26th, 2009
Dwarf planet Pluto
The Dwarf Planet Pluto

The Illinois 96th General Assembly (2009-2010) fresh from demoting Governor Rod Blagojevich to non-governor status is out to balance things out by promoting Pluto back to planetary status. Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997), the man who discovered Pluto on January 23, 1930, was born in Illinois. Up until the time that the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet (2006), not only could the United States boast of having a native born planet discoverer but so could Illinois. Being a native Illinoian myself I rather liked that. I even had the honor of meeting Clyde Tombaugh quite a few years ago and have an autographed copy of his book Out of Darkness: The Planet Pluto, co-authored with Patrick Moore.

Up until the International Astronomical Union’s 2006 meeting there had never been a formal definition of just what constituted a planet – it was one of those intuitively obvious things. The discovery of 2003 UB313 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 2003 UB313 was larger than Pluto! What to do? To declare 2003 UB313 a planet would have opened the door to defining Ceres and other like sized objects as planets. It was felt that there was a need for a new category of objects, with size being just one of the factors. The result was a new class known as dwarf planets, of which there are now five members:

  • Ceres
  • Eris (aka 2003 UB313)
  • Haumea
  • Makemake
  • Pluto

In order to reclaim one of Illinois’ claims to fame there is a resolution in the Illinois Senate calling for Pluto to be considered a planet and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” here in Illinois. Following is the resolution that is currently before the Illinois Senate.

SENATE RESOLUTION SR0046 LRB096 04130 KXB 14171 r

WHEREAS, Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto, was born on a farm near the Illinois community of Streator; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh served as a researcher at the prestigious Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh first detected the presence of Pluto in 1930; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh is so far the only Illinoisan and only American to ever discover a planet; and

WHEREAS, For more than 75 years, Pluto was considered the ninth planet of the Solar System; and

WHEREAS, A spacecraft called New Horizons was launched in January 2006 to explore Pluto in the year 2015; and

WHEREAS, Pluto has three moons: Charon, Nix and Hydra; and

WHEREAS, Pluto’s average orbit is more than three billion miles from the sun; and

WHEREAS, Pluto was unfairly downgraded to a “dwarf” planet in a vote in which only 4 percent of the International Astronomical Union’s 10,000 scientists participated; and

WHEREAS, Many respected astronomers believe Pluto’s full planetary status should be restored; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-SIXTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.

One bit of misleading information is the point that only 4 percent of the IAU’s 10,000 scientists voted. One thing that must be noted is that IAU membership is for life so included in the total membership number are those individuals who are no longer active in either astronomy or the IAU.

Due to the diverse nature of its mission and the different fields of science involved, the IAU is organized into 12 Divisions, 40 Commissions, and 71 Working Groups and Program Groups. The division that deals with planetary science is the Division III Planetary Systems Sciences which has approximately 1,000 members (active and retired).

So while the vote was open to all attending members, only a fraction would have had a direct interest in the outcome of the vote. It is also interesting to note that the outcome of the official vote was similar in proportion to that of a straw poll of Division III Planetary Systems Sciences members that was conducted earlier that day.

I am all in favor of having a “Pluto Day” and acknowledging the accomplishments of Clyde Tombaugh. This is especially appropriate as 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. However when it comes to deciding whether an object is a planet or not, I put my faith in the International Astronomical Union and not Illinois politicians.

About the Pluto Illustration

To create the illustration of Pluto for this post I began with an albedo map taken from a Hubble Space Telescope image. I then created a grayscale texture for the planet’s, oops make that dwarf planet’s surface. I then used hue/saturation and levels adjustment layers to further manipulate the texture and layer styles to fuzz up the dwarf planet’s limb. All work was done using Adobe Photoshop.

If you live in Illinois, I encourage you to contact your state Senator and let them know that you are in favor of honoring Clyde Tombaugh and Pluto but I leave it for you to decide whether to support or oppose the attempt to have Pluto classified as a planet.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
Fate of the Sister Star Supernovax
Fate of the Sister Star

Looks like the folks running the Capricon Science Fiction Convention are keen to keep me busy this year. Capricon, which begins today and runs through Sunday, is one of three sciene fiction conventions held each year in the Chicago area. I’ve been a participant in “con” programming since the early 90’s.

Following is the list of panels that I’ll be on. The (M) identifies the person who will be serving as the panel’s moderator.

Web Design for Fans
Tired of the same old web designs? Want your website to impress family and friends without overpowering them with bells and whistles? Come listen to some experts in the effective design of a fannish website. Jim Plaxco (M), Jason Robertson, Kevin Spencer.
Digital Art
Digital art is art created with a computer, from models or references created by the artist. The term is usually applied to works created entirely with a computer. The panel will cover both 2D and 3D digital art and its many applications. Artists  Mike Cole (M), Rudy Jakupovic, Jim Plaxco.
Technology: Mean or Green
Is technology inherently detrimental to the environment? Or can technology lead us away from pollution and destruction of the biosphere? Christian McGuire, Jim Plaxco (M), Jim Rittenhouse.
Astronomy Workshop
The Universe around us has gotten a lot stranger and more varied since you took that intro to astronomy class so many years ago. Come and learn the latest in astronomical knowledge from Plutoids to the size of the Milky Way (now 35% larger!) in this workshop geared to teaching and understanding practical astronomy. Bill Higgins, Jim Plaxco (M), Henry Spencer.
Space Camp
If you want to know what it is like to train to be an astronaut, Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama is for you. Former campers tell stories of the camp and try to let you know why Space Camp is for you (and why it is just so much better than that Science Camp down the road). Joshua Jacobson, David Kahn, Jamie Kahn, Jim Plaxco (M), Grant Shillington.

In addition to the programming, I’ll also be participating in the art show.¬† The pictures that I am planning on bringing to the art show are:

Looks to be a fun weekend.

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Quantum Moon Space Art

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
Quantum Moon Space Art Print
Quantum Moon by Jim Plaxco, 26 by 18 inches

I’ve added yet another work of lunar art to my Moon Art Gallery. This time it is a piece titled Quantum Moon. With this particular piece I wasn’t so much interested in the Moon as in working on a new method of digitally painting the image.

The method I used to create Quantum Moon bears some similarity to pointillism but is different in some crucial ways. First the dots overlap – much more so than in pointillist paintings. Second, in traditional pointillism the artist is to avoid mixing colors. Rather, primary colors are applied as dots in such a way as to work with the human eye with the eye doing the color mixing in a process known as optical mixing. I did not follow this method. My primary interest was in the texture that resulted from the application of overlapping circles of color.

The texture that resulted from this overlapping method is not visible in smaller images. However if you go to the Quantum Moon gallery page you will see a link for the “Mare Crisium section of Quantum Moon” which takes you to a full size view of that portion of the painting.

I have only just begun selling open edition prints through Fine Art America and have only made four pieces available to date. All four are astronomical art pieces and all four feature a Moon. I wonder if there is any cosmic significance in that?

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New Space Art – Moon: Assembly Required

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Moon: Assembly Required Art Print
Moon: Assembly Required, 16 x 16 inch print

Yesterday I added a new space art print to my web site. Moon: Assembly Required is an impression of the birth of our Moon. Today, the accepted theory is that our Moon was formed as the result of a collision between the Earth and another protoplanetary body that was approximately the size of Mars. This collision destroyed both that unknown body and the original Earth. It was from the debris of this collision that the Earth reformed and the Moon was born.

As to this particular digital art creation, this is a departure in style for me. Looking over my prior space art, both that which I’ve published so far to my Artsnova Space Art Gallery and that which I have yet to add (which far exceeds that which I’ve actually added) Moon Assembly Required is distinctive. It is not meant to be a rendering of what that formation may have looked like but is instead a symbolic interpretation. Coloring, brush stroke, and texture are also departures in style.

Looking over other space art that I’ve done in the past, they all differ in style to one degree or another. I blame this on the fact that I am a digital artist. By its very nature, the digital medium encourages experimentation. It’s not just the variety of tools available but the flexibility with which those tools can be used to apply line, color, and texture to the digital canvas. Of course the downside of digital art is that software is ever changing – meaning the digital artist is going to be spending a fair amount of time reading manuals and relearning how to use their digital art tools.

Visit the Moon: Assembly Required Space Art Gallery Page for more information about this print.

Ad Astra, Jim

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