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Earth As Art Astronomy Day Program

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Planet Earth As Art: The View From Space Program
Planet Earth As Art: The View From Space Program

Today (Saturday, April 21) I will be giving my Planet Earth As Art: The View From Space presentation as a part of the Astronomy Day event being held at Harper College in Palatine IL. I find the timing of this talk most appropriate since tomorrow is Earth Day.

In this presentation, I give a brief introduction to remote sensing and spend some time talking about the workflow and techniques I use to take the source image data, mostly coming from the Landsat 8 mission, and process it so as to create visually attractive images.

The presentation contains some images of cities for scale reference but focuses on natural features like deserts, islands, volcanoes, glaciers, sediment flows, and river deltas. Some of the images I use in my presentation can be seen in my Planet Earth Satellite Imagery Collection on Redbubble.

Some images from Planet Earth As Art
A few images from the Planet Earth As Art presentation (rotated 90 degrees here)

For details about the Astronomy Day activities at Harper College, please visit the Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day page.

 

Jim Plaxco’s Art Portfolio on Redbubble

 

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Space Globalization for Astronomy Day 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation
The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation

Saturday May 14 I will be speaking at an Astronomy Day event being held at Harper College in Palatine IL. The event is sponsored by Northwest Suburban Astronomers and the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. This astronomy day event will consist of displays, presentations, hands-on activities for kids, and, weather permitting, telescopic observations of the night sky.

My part in the evening’s activities will be to give my presentation The Globalization of the Solar System which addresses the question of whether or not the economics of globalization can take place with human settlements spread across the solar system. I am speaking at Astronomy Day in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, a non-profit promoting space exploration and space development via educational outreach. For more about my space exploration presentations, see Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau – Jim Plaxco.

And yes, I have given art related presentations at past astronomy day events, at both this venue and others. My most popular such art talk is The Art of Astronomy which is a historical overview of the development of astronomical art. The take-away from this presentation is that astronomical art has relied more on technological advancement than any other traditional art form (clearly new media art, aka digital art, aka computer art, have all been entirely dependent on technological innovation).

In addition to my own presentation, the Harper College – Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day event has the following program items:

  • Things that Go Boom in the Night
  • Craft Projects for Children
  • Einstein Destroys Vulcan!
  • Discovering Our Solar System
  • Pluto Revealed
  • Black Holes
  • T Coronae Borealis: A Recurring Nova
  • The Possibility of Life on Mars and Venus
  • Astro Trivia
  • Eclipse Mania: Observing the 2017 Total Solar
  • Cosmic Time

Astronomy Day activities begin at 5:30pm and are held in Building Z on the Harper College college. For complete details, see the Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day page.

Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL
Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL

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Capricon Science Fiction Convention Review

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
Capricon Science Fiction Convention

I spent last weekend attending the Capricon Science Fiction Convention at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling IL. While I normally participate in the convention’s art show, this year I decided to opt out. I did of course participate in the con’s programming, doing one presentation and participating in three panels.

A few months back I suggested a presentation idea to Capricon’s programming staff. Titled The Globalization of the Solar System, I described it as a lecture about the possible economics of a human civilization that spans the solar system. Specifically I wanted to address the question of whether or not the globalization we’ve seen here on Earth will be possible with a human presence that is spread across the solar system. I had originally developed the idea as a submission for the International Space Development Conference but had a change of heart once I decided to attend the Eyeo Festival instead. So as a long shot I proposed it to the folks at Capricon. I was delighted when they accepted – surprised as well since globalization and economics are not your typical topics at a science fiction convention.

I was really pleased with the size of the audience my talk attracted (far more than attended all three of the panels I participated in). Between my prepared talking points and addressing the numerous questions I received while my talk was underway, I wound up speaking for a total of 88 minutes – well over the 75 minutes I was allotted but finishing with a few minutes to spare before the start of the next program.

I am next scheduled to give my Globalization of the Solar System talk in July at the Elgin Public Library and may or may not give it at the June meeting of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

The panel I most enjoyed and was most disappointed with was the Science Literacy for ALL panel. Granted it was a Sunday panel held at noon but I still expected that we would have attracted a substantial audience. It was the lack of a much larger audience that was my source of disappointment. Subject wise, I found this panel to be truly enjoyable because of the way in which we panelists bounced so nicely off one another and the wide ranging topics we addressed. Joining me on this panel were Henry Spencer, a fellow space enthusiast who actually works in aerospace and with whom I’ve been on numerous panels in the past. Also on the panel was Dexter Fabi. Turns out Dex, whom I’ve also been on panels with in the past, was on all three panels I was on this year. Our other panelists were the moderator Alicia Choi, Patrick O’Connor, and Kelly Strait.

Another panel was The Importance of Visual Design in Movies and TV which took some interesting twists and turns as we explored how the look of a movie or TV show affected viewers perceptions of the story. We also discussed how science fiction design has impacted our perceptions of the look of the future. My copanelists were Dexter Fabi, Jan Gephardt, Karen Ann Hollingsworth, Daniel Levin, and Lucy Synk.

Lastly there was the panel Alien Landscapes on Earth. The focus of the panel was not just on discussing alien landscapes here on Earth, but also about how such landscapes influenced the art we made (all the panelists were artists). My co-panelists were Dexter Fabi, Sandra Levy (moderator), Samantha Haney Press, Lucy Synk, and Capricon Artist Guest of Honor Eric Wilkerson.

While as a con-goer I toured the art show, prowled the dealer’s room, attended other panels, and chatted with friends in the Green Room, the two high points of the convention for me were my talk and the science literacy panel.

Illustration: Capricon Particle String.

To illustrate this post I used a custom typography. Specifically I used a particle system that assembled itself using an image mask to define the area of the individual letters in the text string, in this case "Capricon". A random starting location was selected as well as a target location inside one of the letter areas. As the system ran, particles would do a random walk within a vector field from their initial location to their final destination. The screen shot was taken once all particles had more or less arrived at their final destination.

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Pluto New Horizons Program Update

Monday, August 31st, 2015

New Horizons mission to Pluto talk
The New Horizons Mission to Pluto

Last week I gave my Pluto – New Horizons presentation to a joint meeting of the Von Braun Astronomical Society and the Huntsville Alabama L5 chapter of the National Space Society. The event was held at the Von Braun Planetarium in Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville AL. In doing this particular presentation I was wearing my NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador hat. I have served as a Solar System Ambassador for a number of years and in that guise give talks about planetary science and the various NASA JPL robotic missions to the planets. In recent years the focus of my space-related outreach activities has been on the subjects of space commercialization and space development. For example, last November I gave a presentation on newSpace at the Gateway to Space conference in St. Louis while in October I served as a panelist for a space exploration symposium held at the Museum of Science and Industry. The subject of that panel was the economics of deep space exploration and was moderated by former NASA astronaut and ATK Flight Systems Group Vice President Charlie Precourt. And, of course, I speak frequently on the subject of digital art and related topics. You can see a list of these presentations on my art lectures and presentations page.

For the most part my presentations are relatively static due to the nature of their subject matter. The changes I do make are primarily to improve the quality of the content and flow of the presentation. My Pluto talk is quite another matter. The challenge I face going forward is that new data and images are going to be regularly released from now until October 2016. This means that the backstory I tell, which serves as a foundation for the science and spacecraft, is going to be continually cut. In fact I can foresee a time when all discussion of the history of planetary science and details about the New Horizons spacecraft will be removed from my presentation in order to make room for the newest images and science results. For my talk at the Von Braun Planetarium I removed about 15 percent of the backstory slides in order to add slides that addressed the newest images and data returned from the New Horizons encounter with Pluto. And the next time I give this talk – at Maker Faire Milwaukee – I’m going to have to cut more background in order to accommodate the new data being released in September.

In order to add some uniqueness to my presentation’s visuals, I created several custom 3D global views of both Pluto and Charon. As sources I used the global cylindrical projection maps of Pluto and Charon released by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. I slightly enhanced the contrast and sharpness of the source images, colorized the images, and smoothed out individual image frame borders. I then did something I haven’t done in years – I fired up Bryce and used it to render my globes of Pluto and Charon. I used Bryce because it was the fastest and easiest way to produce simple 3D screen-sized renders.

3D render of Tombaugh Regio, Pluto
3D render of Tombaugh Regio, Pluto (cropped here)

Using custom views turned out to be particularly useful in, for example, highlighting the differences between the eastern and western lobes of Tombaugh Regio. The western lobe of Tombaugh Regio contains Sputnik Planum, which appears to be a reservoir of ices, principally nitrogen (N2), methane(CH4), and carbon monoxide(CO). Sputnik Planum appears to be the source of the ices that thinly veil the eastern lobe of Tombaugh Regio.

Global Map of Pluto
Global Map of Pluto

I also assembled my own annotated map of Pluto that includes feature names and a latitude/longitude grid. I find such maps quite useful in helping the audience understand where features are not just on Pluto/Charon but also in relationship to one another.

In closing, while our knowledge of Pluto and Charon is a work in progress being continually reshaped by the arrival of new data and images, so too is my Pluto talk a work in progress.

Reference Links

Upcoming Pluto Presentations

For Plutophiles(1), I am scheduled to give my Pluto talk two times in September. First up is an abbreviated version for a Rotary Club meeting. Next I will be giving the full talk at Maker Faire Milwaukee held the weekend of Sept. 25-26. In addition, I will also be teaching my class Creating Digital Spirographs and Harmonographs with Processing.

Note 1: According to Wordspy, a plutophile is "a person who likes the dwarf planet Pluto, particularly one who objects to Pluto‚Äôs status as a dwarf planet". While the first half of this definition applies to me, the second half does not. I am one of those folks who supported the IAU’s (International Astronomical Union) decision to reclassify Pluto.

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Space Art Presentation

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Space Art Talk at Lake Barrington Shores
Arriving to give my space art talk at Lake Barrington Shores

Last Thursday I gave my Art and the Exploration of Space talk to the Lake Barrington Shores Men’s Club. Lake Barrington Shores is a gated community north of Barrington IL. I was surprised to learn that one of the ladies in the audience had been the Maid of honor at Neil Armstrong’s wedding. Fortunately I did get to speak with her briefly about some of her recollections of Neil and his days as an Apollo astronaut. I was also surprised to see several works of space art on display – provided by a friend of one of the club members. It was also a pleasure to speak with a fellow space art aficionado.

Somewhat on the impulsive side, a few days before I was slated to give this talk I decided to totally redo my presentation. I’d first given this particular space art talk in 2009 and had made no substantive changes to it during the intervening years. Turns out I was working on the new version right up until midnight the night before I was set to give it. In hindsight, I’m glad that I made that impulsive decision because the changes and additions improved the quality of the presentation.

Cosmetically I restructured all the slides so that I could enlarge the space art that appeared on each slide. More importantly I added a section on space art used specifically to illustrate future space development concepts like space solar power, asteroid mining, and space tourism. This allowed me to not only broaden the scope of the space art I discussed but also allowed me to introduce the associated concepts to my audience. I also added a section on the use of space art to illustrate newspace ventures. This allowed me to discuss the newspace paradigm of space exploration. I should point out that as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, my principal presentation is The NewSpace Frontier.

I also added in some of my own space art to extend on some of the topic areas I was addressing. Being able to speak on a first-hand basis about my own art strengthened the points that I was attempting to make.

During my presentation I took the opportunity to put in a plug for the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement 2014 International Student Art Contest for which I am one of the art judges. I also brought along a stack of complimentary copies of Ad Astra – the space magazine published by National Space Society.

It was a very enjoyable experience for me – made even more enjoyable by the number of questions I got after completing my talk. For more about my art presentations, I have a PDF on my web site that contains summary information:
The Presentations, Lectures, and Classes of Jim Plaxco PDF.

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Space Art for Mensa

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Digital Painting of a Stellar Atmosphere
Digital Painting Study of a Stellar Atmosphere

This Friday October 30 I’ll be speaking at the Chicago regional Mensa gathering known as HalloweeM. My topic for the evening will be Art And The Exploration of Space. I start off by providing a history of space art and how space art has evolved over time. Perhaps more than any other art form space art has truly been influenced by technology beginning with the invention of the telescope.

The bulk of my presentation deals with the different ways in which art can be used to convey information and emotion. A fair portion of the art I use is art that was created as a part of the NASA Art Program. Last year an excellent book on the subject was released. You may want to read my book review NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration.

This four day gathering of mensans is being held at the Sheraton Chicago Northwest in Arlington Heights. To learn more about the Mensa HalloweeM, visit HalloweeM 34: Chicago-area Mensa legendary gathering. You can also read a news release I placed on my web site: Digital Artist Jim Plaxco and Space Art Featured at Regional Mensa Gathering

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I’ve used a small digital painting I recently did of a stellar atmosphere. This was a study of a technique that I’ve been working on. The software I used was Adobe Photoshop. My focus was on painting the star’s limb. My next step will be to focus on the star’s main surface. If I am satisfied with the results, I will proceed to do a full size version.

Ad Astra, Jim

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