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Archive for the ‘Astronomical Art’ Category

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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Capricon 32 Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Beyond the Mountains Exoplanet Landscape Painting
Beyond the Mountains exoplanet landscape painting

This weekend I’ll be attending the 32nd Capricon Science Fiction Convention being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, IL. The theme this year is Amazing Adventures. I’ve attended quite a few Capricon’s over the years and they’ve always been fun. In addition to participating in the con’s programming, I’ve participated in their art show for the last several years.

With respect to programming, this year I am giving one presentation – The Art of the Exploration of Space. In this talk, I give an overview of the development of space art and how that art evolved over time to reflect the realities of aerospace engineering. I pay particular attention to the means by which art is used to portray space exploration, from exploratory to educational to inspirational. I also talk about the NASA Art Program and NASA’s recognition of the emotional impact of art vs photography. I even sneak some of my own space art into the talk.

I will also be moderating the panel Goodbye, Space Shuttle where we’ll be discussing human access to space in the post-Space Shuttle era. Joining me will be Henry Spencer, all the way from Canada and a co-panelist on a number of past space panels, and Chris Gerrib, whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

Lastly, I will be a panelist on the Pluto Is Still a Planet in Illinois panel. Moderating will be friend and scientist Bill Higgins. My fellow panelists will be Brother Guy Consolmagno (who was actually at the 2006 IAU conference at which Pluto was relegated to dwarf planet status) and Steven Silver. One of the questions the panel is asked to answer is Why are we still so invested in the classification of this distant object? In the case of Illinois politicians, I’m betting it’s because the chuckle heads, eer elected representatives, in Springfield would prefer to deal with weighty issues like Pluto’s planetary status rather than the financial and ethical holes they’ve dug the state into.

Uncharacteristically, I have not yet decided whether or not I am going to participate in the Capricon art show. Sunday has limited programming and I am not on any panels that day. Not participating in the art show frees up my Sunday which works out exceedingly well for me as I have other commitments that day.

Looking over the programming line up, you may find me in the audience of the following panels:

  • Whither Goes the Art Show?
  • Chicon 7: The 2012 Worldcon Open Meeting
  • Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement
  • Dystopia Now
  • Fan Artists You Should Know
  • SF/F Music that Isn’t Filk
  • The Coming War on General Purpose Computation
  • There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow! The Disney Imagineering Panel
  • We Do It in Groups: Fandom and Social Media

You can get all your Capricon questions answered at the Capricon web site.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I decided to use a relatively recent digital painting I created and only added to my web site today. Beyond the Mountains is a minimalist representation of an exoplanet landscape.

Bon Voyage, Jim

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Quotes, Quotes, and more Quotes

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Beach Sky Study digital painting
Beach Sky Study digital painting

I just added two new collections of quotes to the web site. The first is Computer Art and Artist Quotes which is a small collection of quotes about computer art. The second is Space Art and Astronomical Art Quotes and covers the fields of space art and astronomical art. Unfortunately this collection is a little on the skimpy side. Lastly I added a number of new quotes to the A Small Collection of Art Quotes page.

Hope you enjoy these resources.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I used my digital painting Beach Sky Study.

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Astronomical Art, Algorithmic Art, and Science Fiction

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Sands of Mars
Sands of Mars

The Capricon Science Fiction Convention opens today and runs through Sunday. I have a fairly busy schedule at the con this year. First I will be participating in the convention’s art show. I will have seven works of art in the show:

In addition to the art show, I will also be providing two presentations for the convention: Algorithmic Art: Where Art Meets Math and The Art of Astronomy.

Algorithmic Art: Where Art Meets Math gives a history of algorithmic art, discusses some of the concepts and takes a look at some of the software tools available today to those interested in algorithmic art.

The Art of Astronomy is a straight forward history of astronomical art which also includes a discussion of how I have created some of my astronomical art as well as providing an overview of how anyone can use freely available graphics software to work with the raw image data available online from the various NASA robotic missions.

In addition to my two presentations, I will also be participating on the following panels.

Panel: Do You Still Believe in the Future?
Description: They say the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” is thirteen and when you’re thirteen all sorts of things are possible in the future. Now that you’ve grown up, chronologically, if nothing else, do you still view the possibilities of the future the way you did when you hit that golden age? Is it possible to retain that hope and optimism or are humans naturally cynical? With co-panelists Michael D’Ambrosio, Butch Honeck and Dermot Dobson as moderator.

Panel: Nuclear Fission or Fusion or ???: What Will Power our Future?
Description: Wind…Water…Coal…Steam…Oil. Over the centuries our fuel choices have changed as we’ve found more effective alternatives. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the most effective alternative, nuclear fission, carries a strong negative, and fusion isn’t ready for prime time. What advances will fuel sources see in the next 50 years? 100 years? Will we ever run out of fuel? With co-panelists Jim Landis, Pat Nuccio, Isabel Schechter, and myself as moderator.

Panel: ISDC: The International Space Development Conference
Description: The International Space Development Conferences is coming to Chicago on Memorial Day weekend this year. Come learn what this professional conference has to offer and learn how you can attend at a discount. With co-panelists Raymond Cyrus and Tom Veal and myself as moderator.

Panel: Manned visit to Mars: Round Table Discussion
Description: Is it worth sending a man to Mars as opposed to unmanned probes? With co-panelists Brother Guy Consolmagno and Bill Thomasson as moderator.

See you at the con.

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Astronomical Art – Nice Surprise

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Google Results for Astronomical Art
Google Results for Astronomical Art

This morning I got down to work on an astronomical art presentation I’ll be giving later this month. This new astronomical art presentation joins my presentation on space art which I last gave in the spring at Harper College in Palatine IL and will next give at a Chicago MENSA convention on Halloween weekend. The final presentation in what is to be a trio will cover science fiction art with a focus on the category of space travel and astronomical and planetary settings.

Heading over to Google Images, I entered the search term "astronomical art". To my surprise and delight, my digital painting Planet Riding the Stream of Stars was the number one image.

Another image of mine – Spring Thaw in Northwestern Planum Australe – showed up as number 4. This image is not a digital painting but is rather my own rendition of a Mars Global Surveyor image. This picture was used to illustrate my blog post Making Astronomical Art with Your PC which discusses a class I taught at the Adler Planetarium.

Now if I can only get the number 2 and 3 spots.

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New Space Art: Titan Landscape

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Titan Landscape Space Art
Titan Landscape Space Art by Jim Plaxco

I’ve just added another work of space art to my web site. Titled Titan Landscape, this is an artistic impression of the surface of Titan as seen from a low altitude. Prominent in the piece are a number of lakes and pools of liquid ethane. Their presence is based on analysis of data from the VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) instrument on Cassini and reported on in the July 31 2008 issue of Nature. For more information on this instrument, see the Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer web page.

Titan Landscape is something of a departure for me. As a rule I have stuck to working with either the inner solar system, specifically Mars and our Moon, or extrasolar objects. For a more complete description of Titan Landscape and to view a wallpaper version of the art, visit the Titan Landscape Gallery Page.

Ad Astra, Jim

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