How do you visualize distant worlds that you can't see? A team of artists uses scientific data to imagine exoplanets and other astrophysical phenomena.


Tim Pyle: Our artist concepts are going to be the public face for some of these objects, and there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that.

I'm Robert Hurt, I'm the visualization scientist at IPAC, which is a science and data center for astrophysics and planetary science at Caltech.

My name is Tim Pyle, I'm a multimedia producer at IPAC. I work with Robert.

Hurt : We've done illustrations of regions where stars form and cores, the stellar remnants after a star like our sun dies leaving a white dwarf. A neutron star that's left at the core of a supernova explosion. Super massive black holes that sit in the cores of galaxies.

Pyle: Show the rocky planets, gas giants, brown dwarfs, cool stars.

Hurt: With TRAPPIST-1, I was immediately thinking, "This is going to be the most significant thing that has come out of the Spitzer mission." It's going to be the result that I think Spitzer will really be remembered for.

The properties that we come away with, from this kind of observation include the diameter of the planet, its orbital period,

Pyle: whether it's likely to be tidally locked, which will say something about what the planet probably looks like.

Hurt: If it's less dense than the Earth, it might have more volatiles like water on it, which is why a two of the TRAPPIST planets were shown as water worlds. If it has a higher density than Earth, then it's probably a little more rocky.

Pyle: By doing these artist concepts we are actually getting across the point that no, these aren't just "we know there's a planet there" and that's the extent of our information about it. All of these decisions are made in conjunction with the scientists.

Hurt: I got my PhD in astrophysics from UCLA.

Pyle: I'm an artist with a Hollywood background.

Hurt: A lot of times I'm very focused on you know the science bullet points that I'm trying to get across. We, we kind of cover each other's blind spots a bit.

If you go back and you look at the whole history of space art, and science-based illustration, for ya know reaching back many, many decades you have a visual history, a visual record of our evolving understanding. The art is a much historical record of our changing understanding of the universe as the textbooks that we write.

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