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Archive for July, 2013

The Small Stars of Exoplanets

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Exoplanet Stars Smaller Than Sun
Exoplanet Stars As Large As Or Smaller Than Our Sun (Yellow in center of image)

Last month I decided to do a series of paintings of exoplanets. It’s been a while since I’ve done any astronomical art and little of what I’ve done is actually on my web site. A series on exoplanets appealed to me. The complexity of my exoplanet art project has greatly increased since that initial idea.

First I wanted to only paint actual confirmed exoplanets – which meant doing research on specific exoplanets. Fortunately a treasure trove of data is available online. I next began painting some exoplanets. It then occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to paint a number of these exoplanets with the planet’s central star in the field of view. The downside of this approach is that geometry dictates that much of the planet would be in darkness from the observer’s point of view. Still, I decided to proceed. To do this accurately meant that I’d need even more information. Information on the star’s spectral type is needed to accurately represent the star’s color. Information on the planet’s orbital radius and the star’s radius is needed to accurately size the star in the painting. This is even more crucial for planets in binary star systems.

Fortunately the necessary information is widely and freely available. Not only are there multiple star catalogs, there are also multiple exoplanet catalogs from which all the basic data can be obtained. The next step was to integrate the data from the separate catalogs and produce my own unified star/exoplanet database limited to confirmed exoplanets. This integration is still a work in progress.

You will note that I have emphasized confirmed exoplanets. This is because there is a far larger number of exoplanet candidates – a few thousand in fact. A number of these have been found by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, whose mission is to search our Milky Way galaxy for Earth-sized planets in or near their star’s habitable zone

As part of my piecemeal development approach, I exported some of the star data into a csv file. I then wrote a Processing program that would parse the file, create an array of star objects, and do some basic analysis. To test several of the routines, I had the program output some very basic information about the stars:

  • Record count = 910 (note: I did not remove duplicate entries for this run)
  • The most massive star is HD 13189 with a mass 4.5 times greater than the Sun
  • The hottest star is NY Vir with an effective temperature of 33,000.0 Kelvin
  • The largest star is HD 208527 with a radius 51.1 times greater than the Sun’s
  • The smallest star is 2M 0746+20 with a radius 0.089 times the Sun’s

Out of curiosity, I decided to create a routine that would draw all these stars to the same scale. The first and hardest step was to figure out how to automatically draw them – I certainly wasn’t about to manually place them. I developed a modified circle packing algorithm to place the stars on screen without overlapping. Unfortunately given the number of stars and the range of sizes (0.09 to 51 times Sol’s radius) I knew there was no way that I could create a graphic that would easily fit on a web page. So my first pass was to only draw the stars that were no larger than the Sun. This resulted in a drawing of 239 stars the size of our Sun or smaller. Think about that. Out of the 910 stars (some being duplicates) in the file, only 239 are the size of our Sun or smaller. The graphic of these small exoplanet stars is used to illustrate this post. The yellow star at the center of the graphic is Sol – our Sun. My next step will be to add color information so that star color is accurately represented for all the stars.

Given all the research that I am doing on the subject of exoplanets and their stars, I’ve decided to put together a presentation on exoplanets, their stars, and exoplanet search techniques. I’ve proposed the idea of making this a component of a teachers workshop to a contact at Yerkes Observatory. FYI, earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in a Yerkes teachers workshop dealing with the exploration of Mars. For details, see A Day at Yerkes Observatory: Mars and Astronomical Art

Exoplanet Under Construction

Exoplanet digital painting under construction
Exoplanet digital painting under construction

Above is an example of one of the exoplanet paintings I am working on. You will note the absence of a background (no stars, no nebulaes, etc.) My creative process for my exoplanet series is to first work out the appearance of the exoplanet. Once the exoplanet is complete, I then begin work on the background elements, which includes moon(s), central star(s), distant stars, and any nebula.

Exoplanet Resources

Following are links to some exoplanet resources if you would like to explore this topic further.

I’ll close with a bit of levity courtesy of Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy wherein master planet builder Slartibartfast informs a thoroughly befuddled Arthur Dent: "Earthman, the planet you lived on was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice."

Until next time, happy planet hunting. Jim.

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What To Do With Bill Nye?

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Bill Nye, Planetary Society
Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO

I attended the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach CA in May because:

  • I’m an advocate for space exploration
  • I’m a lecturer on the subjects of NASA, newspace, and space development
  • I was covering the expo as a reporter for Ad Astra magazine

I came home with quite a collection of photographs, mostly of the conference but some of the neighborhood of the convention center and some from the Aquarium of the Pacific which I visited after the expo ended. I hate to say it but even though two months have now passed, I have yet to do anything with the photographs. The only work I have done with them was to select and process the photos that I felt would make good illustrations for my article in Ad Astra magazine.

For non-space folks, the best known person at the expo had to be Bill Nye The Science Guy, currently CEO of the Planetary Society. I got a number of nice photographs of Mr. Bill but what exactly to do with them is the question. I’ve determined to do a portrait but how to do it. As you can see from my Portrait Gallery index page, I generally eschew normal portraiture. For me, the fun lies in dreaming up some non=standard/non-traditional way to represent my subject. In fact if I did your portrait, your own Mother (hopefully) wouldn’t recognize it as being you.

So the question is what to do with Bill Nye? Do I simply create a digitally painted portrait? Maybe I should algorithmitize him? Should I spatially derange him? Do I dismantle him? Do I turn him into a planet (Planet Bill)? Do I create a geometric-based representation? Do I turn him into a nebula? I did that once creating what I called the Godzilla’s Head Nebula. A bit of playfulness on my part.

The one certainty in this is that I will use one of my own painting programs, of which I have created quite a few. The programs are quite primitive in that they lack any sort of GUI. Instead I rely on keyboard shortcuts to control and modify a program’s behavior. Because these programs are written by me for my own personal use I don’t have to worry about niceties like a user interface or user friendliness or extensive features or help documentation. Creating a program just for my own use in specialized situations allows me to focus my energies on the business end of the program — which is the creation of new painting tools.

Adobe Photoshop has a very nice brush engine and I have used it to create many custom brushes. For an artist to limit themselves to the set of brushes that Adobe provides with Photoshop is to really limit their creative possibilities. If you are a Photoshop user who is still using only the brushes that came with Photoshop, I suggest you do a web search on &quotePhotoshop brushes&quote as there are many free custom brushes out there that you can download and add to your installation of Photoshop. Even better, practice, practice, practice creating and using your own brushes.

As good as the Photoshop brush engine is, it does not provide me with the degree of freedom and versatility that I seek. This is one reason why I write my own painting programs (another reason being that I actually really enjoy this part of the creative process). One limitation common to all my painting programs is that I have never attempted to incorporate multiple layers. Yes – I’m stuck with using just one layer. Which is one big reason why, most of the time, I use both my own program(s) and Photoshop together to create my art. I paint one layer in my program, save it, and then open it in Photoshop for additional "processing." Sometimes I go back and paint a second version, save it, bring it into Photoshop and merge the two separate paintings together using Photoshop’s layering features.

Well, what started out to be a commentary on how to do a painting of Bill Nye has morphed into a peak into my creative work flow. So back to the question of what to do with Bill Nye — at this moment I have no idea, which means that it may be some time before a painting of Bill Nye shows up in my art gallery. If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.

In closing I’ll leave you with the words of British mathematician Professor Sir Erik Christopher Zeeman which seem appropriate to this discussion:

Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity.

Ad Astra, Jim

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An Art Review and Party Lines Update

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Party Lines App screen capture
Party Lines Sequel screen capture

A Review of Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies

I just added a review of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project report Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies to my website. The report, released at the start of 2013, is a survey of how arts organizations use the Internet and digital technologies. The focus of my review is on the sections dealing with websites and social media. You can read my review here:

A Review of Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies

I expect to spend some time integrating some of the more interesting information into my presentation/class Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers which I will be giving on August 2 at Musecon which is being held at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca IL.

Party Lines Sequel Processing.js Program

I’ve made major upgrades to my original Party Lines Processing.js program. The upgrades were done to satisfy my final programming assignment for the Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps Coursera class. My changes were to add a nicer GUI, add two additional painting modes (curves and ellipses) and add an additional coloring mode that pulls colors from Vincent van Gogh’s painting Field with Poppies.
Check it out: Party Lines Sequel Processing.js Sketch

That’s all folks, Jim

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Duckon, Party Lines, Art Exhibit

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Masters of Lightning Super Happy Fun Cage
Masters of Lightning zapping the bejesus out of Duckers in their Super Happy Fun Cage

Here it is – my week in review. The four noteworthy events for last week were:

  • my participation in the Duckon Science Fiction Convention
  • setting up a display of my art
  • modifying my Party Lines Processing.js program
  • writing a new image painting program

Duckon Science Fiction Convention

First there was the Duckon Science Fiction Convention last weekend. I did a total of 6 hours of programming – 3 panels and 3 presentations. I attended very little programming myself as most of the panels I wanted to see were scheduled at the same time as one of my talks or panels (I think I must be at the top of Murphy’s Who Do I Want to Annoy Today list). There was a good panel on self-publishing that I was able to attend. I also made sure to attend the Masters of Lightning event featuring their amazing singing tesla coils. I can think of no cooler way to make electronic music than with miniature bolts of lightning.

Masters of Lightning burning CDs at Duckcon Science Fiction Convention
The Masters of Lightning and their novel way of burning CDs.

In addition to making music, these masters also zapped willing con-goers (I myself am a past victim). And it wasn’t just con-goers who got zapped with their lightning – so did a selection of CDs. There was one difference though: the CDs did not survive the ordeal.

I had decided not to participate in the con’s art show this year. I did attend the artist’s reception which unfortunately was poorly attended. It seemed to me that this year’s art show was a fair bit smaller than past shows. Hopefully they’ll be able to turn that around in the future. I am also of the opinion that the decision to have the art programming track take place in the same room as the art show was a mistake. While it was a good idea to try and attract traffic to both the art show and the art programming by having them in the same room, it was a bad idea logistically due to the distractions of noise and traffic.

Although I had to miss the Duckon Masquerade (scheduling conflict), I was able to get several photos later that evening of the very lovely Ariela who was dressed in Steampunk fashion. My idea is to use one or more of these photos as the basis for a portrait.

To see what programming I participated in, see my post Duckon Science Fiction Convention Programming

Art Exhibited at Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau

FortyTwo Million Pixel Shark exhibited42 Million Pixel Shark

On Monday I installed three of my artworks at the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau where they will be on display through October 7 2013.

This exhibit is a part of the Northwest Cultural Council Corporate Art Gallery program of which I am a participating artist.

The three works of art I am exhibiting are:

Party Lines Processing.js Program

Last Sunday night I published my Party Lines program – created as an assignment for the Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps Coursera class. It subsequently dawned on me that my program had a problem for mobile users – the program required keyboard input. My remedy was to create a new version that used a GUI widget for input rather than the keyboard. It’s a pretty simple program that has the user interacting with a particle system to draw lines. The volume of the associated music is tied to the acceleration of the particles in the system. Note that I included sound as that was one of the requirements for this project.
Check it out: Party Lines Processing.js Sketch
Clever folks will know how to access the program’s source code if they want to see exactly what is going on under the covers.

Test Painter Program

Shark
Shark – a test of my painting program

Keeping with the shark theme, I wrote a new image painting program during the week and the shark you see above is one example of its painting possibilities. Just as Photoshop has multiple brushes for users to choose from, so does this program – although for the illustration I used only one of the brushes. I have yet to decide if I will continue to develop this program.

And there you have it. Another week behind me and an unknown but limited number to go.

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