Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Galactic View

It's been a while since I posted any artwork up here, but today I finally have something to show. This particular picture (another in my space artwork series) represents far and away the longest time I've taken between start and finish on one project; this picture was actually begun in the summer of 2008! I'll explain the reason for the gap further down.

This picture is the result of me wondering what you might see from a planet in orbit around a star on the outskirts of a globular cluster. Globular clusters are roughly spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars that orbit galaxies (including our own; the Milky Way galaxy has ~180 known globular clusters). They're composed of old yellow or red stars, not the bright blue young ones that make the spiral arms of spiral galaxies so obvious. Speaking of spiral galaxies, they aren't easy to draw in any sort of half-way realistic way which is the reason it took me so long to finish this picture. It's actually two pictures: the sky is a 2D image I created using the GIMP, and the foreground is a 3D render made using Blender. The globular cluster was mostly complete back in 2008 (I did only minor retouching upon taking up the project again), but I got stuck trying to find a way to make a spiral galaxy that looked good. This was actually so long ago that it was before I discovered Blender, so I also had nothing really in mind for the foreground.

Sometime in March, I think, I came upon a script for creating spiral galaxies in GIMP, and while the galaxies it creates are a long way from the final image, it gave me enough of a starting point to get back to work on it. That was still the hardest part of the image to get looking satisfactory for me. Galaxies are a lot more complicated than I'm used to painting. I think it looks pretty good….at least the arms do (the core, I'm still not sure how to improve…). Realistically the galaxy wouldn't be anywhere near as bright as I've drawn it, and you wouldn't really be able to see the colors like that. Ah, well, I'm not trying for complete verisimilitude…(The galaxy appears to be a spiral, somewhat similar to our own galaxy.)

The lava lake idea came about because I found this link to the USGS webcam overlooking the active Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on Kīlauea a while back and like to watch how the lava inside changes day by day. I've never seen it do anything dramatic like the picture, though. In the picture it was originally going to be a lake of water, but a) that planet looks way too cold for water to exist as a liquid on it. And b) it was just nowhere near as interesting as a lava lake. Getting it to glow and look half-way decent took me quite a while, and many, many, attempts.


  1. Pretty cool! Curious though: why don't you just take a real picture of a galaxy and use it as your background? Or would that defeat the purpose?

  2. Oooh! That does look interesting!

  3. @Nathan: Part of the reason I take on these projects is as challenges to better myself, so I guess, yeah, that would kind of defeat the purpose. As I originally conceived it, the picture didn't have a foreground, so it was really just the galaxy and the globular cluster, and cluster was quite easy. I have a folder with dozens of pictures of galaxies I've collected from APOD over the years, and I did study some of them to get a better idea of what to do. The core region is easily the toughest part to get right, at least for me.


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