Students Paint a Window to Saturn

Saturn mural Cassini scientists tour murals, which run floor-to-ceiling in the Cassini Instrument Operations area. Image credit: NASA/JPL
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February 08, 2008

Art students have literally left their mark at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. A gigantic, multi-wall mural of the Cassini spacecraft's latest discoveries about Saturn and its moons, painted by students of the Academia de Arte Yepes in Los Angeles, was dedicated on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

The students coordinated with Cassini scientists and engineers to create the mural. The artistic creation extends 340 feet from floor to ceiling through the hallways of the windowless Cassini Instrument Operations area in JPL's Spaceflight Operations Facility and paints a vivid portrait of Cassini's space exploration in iridescent colors. The building itself is a National Historical Building and the heart of NASA's deep space communications network.

"We didn't have any windows up here before, but now we do. Now we can see Cassini, Saturn, the rings, moons and things we didn't even know were there when we launched," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL.

Mission engineers and scientists provided the images of Saturn and its moons taken by instruments on board the Cassini spacecraft for the students to translate into art using paint. The mural was divided into sections, each depicting an aspect of the mission.

In one section, the icy landscape of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, stretches out into gray hills with a brilliant orange Saturn behind them, much like a view of the sun setting over a mountain range on Earth. Outer space is painted with glowing swipes of turquoise and purple to make the views appear three dimensional from all angles.

Maya Martinez, a nine-year-old fourth-grader at Hammel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, said that she learned multiple ways to show detail by using the complicated mission images to paint the mural.

"The mural looks so realistic because it has so much detail," Martinez said. "I worked on it mostly over the summer because I have school, but I also learned how to work together with people on a big project."

One wall shows the descent of the Huygens probe from the Cassini spacecraft onto Titan's surface in January of 2005, and another wall around the corner meticulously charts an accurate diagram of the different orbit patterns of the Cassini spacecraft around the Saturn system. Each of the Cassini orbiter instruments is featured along the top of another section of the corridor.

George Yepes, founder of the Academia de Arte Yepes, said the main point of the project was for his students to make a scientifically relevant mural that the Cassini team could enjoy.

"When they finish all of it, they step back to take a look at the whole mural," Yepes said. "It's only then that they realize how much they learned in the process of painting it."

Another student, Saira Soto, said that Yepes did not originally reveal where the mural would be installed.

"We were so excited when [Yepes] finally told us who we were doing it for," said Soto, 28. "For me it was a rewarding experience, especially since I have a science background. I never thought that this project would let me interact with an institute as reputable as JPL, especially since it's not your traditional art institute. Art and science are usually two different worlds."

The mural was created by nearly 40 students over a six-month period at the Academia de Arte Yepes and then permanently installed at JPL on evenings and weekends.

Written by: Diya Chacko
Media contact: Carolina Martinez/JPL 818-354-9382

Images

Maya Martinez

Left to Right: Benjamin Morales, Michelle Juarez Taylor, Mateo N. Zavala, Saira G. Soto, Maria Kane Front: Maya Martinez. Image credit: NASA/JPL

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Saturn mural with scientists

Linda Spilker, Cassini deputy project scientist, and Jeff Cuzzi, Saturn ring specialist, stand in front of a section of the mural showing the ring particles with Saturn looming in the background. Image credit: NASA/JPL

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