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Posts Tagged ‘Astronomical Art’

Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Exoplanet in Large Magellanic Cloud
Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud (cropped here)

It has been quite some time since I’ve created a work of astronomical art. Strike that. It’s been some time since I’ve finished a work of astronomical art. In fact I’ve not done a very good job of adding such art to my web site. No I didn’t make a new year’s resolution to do more astronomical art. I’m not sure what possessed me to take a break from my other projects and create this piece of art. Last year I had started work on an exoplanet project. I had painted a number of exoplanets and for a while was quite devoted to it. One of the things I did was to create a database of both the exoplanets and their stars. I previously wrote about this initial foray in The Small Stars of Exoplanets.

My plan was to use both my art and an analysis of the data I’d collected to create a presentation on exoplanets. This would be an addition to my current lineup of lectures, talks, and presentations (I should point out that I do space exploration and astronomy presentations in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies and as a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador).

Artistic Inspiration

The artwork consists of three main components: the exoplanet, the nebula, and the stars. While the exoplanet was drawn solely from my imagination, the nebula was inspired by NGC 2035. In fact, the specific image that I used as a reference is The star formation region NGC 2035 imaged by the ESO Very Large Telescope. This image is described as:

The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to our own. Astronomers have now used the power of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope to explore NGC 2035, one of its lesser known regions, in great detail. This new image shows clouds of gas and dust where hot new stars are being born and are sculpting their surroundings into odd shapes. But the image also shows the effects of stellar death – filaments created by a supernova explosion.

Artistic Process

I created this art using only Adobe Photoshop CS4 and my Wacom tablet. I used a variety of custom brushes I had previously created specifically for painting astronomical art.

My first step was to paint the neublar structure. I did this using a variety of brushes. One feature that greatly increased the flexibility I had was to take advantage of Photoshop’s brush mode option. The mode option makes it possible for your new brush strokes to interact with previous brush strokes in different ways. This is a very useful technique that is most probably greatly underused as I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in any astronomical art tutorials for Photoshop.

Having completed the nebula, my next step was to create the starfield. I did this on a separate Photoshop layer. Separating the stars from the nebula allows me to work on the two independently. It’s worth pointing out that this is a fictional starfield. For the starfield the main question I had to answer was sharp or soft: did I want stars with sharp edges or soft edges. I opted for soft edges because the first stars I painted were those in front of the nebula.

I created my exoplanet in a separate Photoshop document. I did this for several reasons. First and most important I wanted to create the planet on a scale much larger than the size it would have in the final composition. Second, because the planet involved a number of layers, I wanted to keep them together as a separate document. This path facilitates my ability to reuse all or part of this exoplanet for other projects.

Once I was satisfied with my exoplanet, I copied the planet as a single layer back to my original Photoshop document. I now resized and positioned the exoplanet. Fortunately I knew exactly where I wanted to place the planet and used that knowledge in creating my exoplanet. To better tie the exoplanet to the nebula, I arranged for the cloud structure to continue the nebula’s pattern as can be seen by observing the 3:00 position of the exoplanet’s limb. Okay – that might be a little difficult to observe since the original painting is 20 x 15 inches and what is shown here, if printed, would only be 2 x 1 inches.

Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud Digital Painting

To see the uncropped version, as well as some small full-size sections, see Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud Digital Painting. I’ve added this artwork to my Space Art Gallery as well as to my Astronomical Art Gallery. As is my custom, I’ve limited the number of limited edition prints for this piece to five.

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A Day at Yerkes Observatory: Mars and Astronomical Art

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Yerkes Observatory
Yerkes Observatory,Williams Bay, WI

This Saturday March 16 I will be participating in both a teacher workshop and a public star party at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay WI. This will be my first time visiting Yerkes in a long time. Aside from my duties that day, I hope that I have sufficient time to explore and photograph this landmark observatory.

Packing for Mars Teacher Workshop

Packing for Mars
Packing for Mars

The theme for the teacher workshop I’m taking part in is "Packing for Mars" and uses as its focus the book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (W. W. Norton & Company; 2010). If you are a teacher it is not too late to register. Registration includes CPDUs and lunch. A fee of $25 for the workshop will be collected on the day of the workshop.

The segment that I will be leading, What Would You Bring?, actually deals with planning a human mission to Mars. Identifying the resources a mission would need to bring along is a subset of the overall mission planning. Other aspects of mission planning include mission objectives, mission duration, infrastructure, and strategic and tactical implementation issues.

The planned agenda for the day is:

8:30am Coffee and Registration
9:00am Book Discussion: Packing for Mars
10:00am What Would You Bring?
11:00am Discussion with Mary Roach, author of Packing for Mars
12:00pm Lunch provided by Stars at Yerkes
1:00pm Packing the Portable Life Support System (PLSS)
2:00pm Building Project
4:15pm Wrap up: final thoughts, additional resources, evaluations and CPDUs

To register, complete the Packing for Mars Teacher Workshop Registration Form.

Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party

In the evening there will be a public star party with, hopefully, clear skies. If you do not know what a star party is, it provides people with the opportunity to observe various astronomical wonders using a telescope. For more information, check out the Wikipedia entry for Star Party. As a part of the star party, I will be giving a highly condensed version of my presentation The Art of Astronomy which looks at the evolution of astronomical art over the years.

The star party begins at 7:00pm and ends at 9:00pm. My presentation is about 30 minutes long and will start at 7:15pm. If you plan on attending the Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party, there is a fee of $5 per person or $15 per family. To help the astronomers get an idea of how many people will be attending, please fill out the
Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party Registration Form.

Yerkes Observatory Information

Location: 373 West Geneva Street, Williams Bay WI 53191
Web Site:
Location on Map: Google Maps

Ad Astra, Jim

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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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