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Commissioned by NASA in the 70’s – How They View Outer Space


The terminator: where perpetual day meets perpetual night on the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f. Photo: NASA

The universe is big and, while we may be able to explore it in depth in the future, we can’t yet see a lot of it up-close. Scientists make inferences about an exoplanet’s finer details from larger observations, using what they know about how space works, but we can never know for sure what that planet is like until we land on it and walk around. That’s where artists come in: They show us what is out there as best as they can, helping us to imagine our greater universe. Here are examples of the most eye-opening work they’ve done for NASA.

Where Ice Meets Water

The surface of the exoplanet Trappist-1f  looks like a place where a supervillain would live. This photo actually depicts a place called the “terminator” — no relation to the cyborg from the Arnold Schwarzenegger films — where the daytime side of the planet meets the nighttime side. Trappist-1f, like all the other planets in that solar system, orbits its star in such a way that the same side is always facing light and heat, and the other side is in perpetual darkness. While there could be water on the warmer side, the dark side of the planet could be icy.

This planet is part of the Trappist-1 system, a star and seven rocky planets in the constellation Aquarius, about 40 light years from Earth, that scientists recently discovered. The planets are so close together that aliens on each planet would be able to see the skies of the others.

A New Civilization on Mars

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-29-19A Mars colony will need workers of all kinds. Photo: NASA

As humans search for alien life in the universe and seek to land on and explore other planets, Mars is a huge target. It is Earth’s closest neighbor, other than the moon, and scientists believe basic life forms could have once thrived on the planet before its atmosphere thinned out and Mars dried up and cooled off.

These two posters, part of a series, are simple but they can get people fired up about the prospect of exploring and even building a space colony on another world, which astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says we have to do in the next 100 years if humans want to have a prayer of avoiding extinction. A full colony would need experts like engineers and doctors, sure, but also people to teach the colony’s children about Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos and do other community tasks.

The center of the galaxy

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-30-16Black holes are famous for sucking, and they can tear you into a stream of atoms without even breaking a sweat.Photo: NASA

Supermassive black holes suck, but in a cool way. They have such an enormous mass packed into such a small space that their gravitational pull is too strong for even light to escape them. These dense objects are millions of times more massive than the sun and lie at the centers of galaxies, destroying anything that comes too close by ripping it into a stream of particles. But as it consumes life, it also gives it: Scientists have found evidence that new stars form within the galactic outflows, powerful winds of gas the supermassive black hole blows out.

A vision of the future

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-30-32Will humans one day be able to explore the solar system like they would a foreign country? Photo: NASA

If we want to see amazing things in outer space, we don’t have to leave our solar system. These three posters from the Visions of the Future series depict the gas giant Jupiter and two moons of Saturn, Titan, and Enceladus — and humans getting spectacular views of their natural beauty.

Enceladus is special particularly now because NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen coming from that moon, which certain life forms could use as a source of energy. Added to the heat source beneath its icy surface and it could have the ingredients to support alien life.

The next frontier

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-30-52A space colony imagined in the 1970s comes complete with trees and patio decks. Photo: Rick Guidice/NASA

What is life like in a doughnut-shaped space colony? This work from the 1970s, one of a series by various artists, imagines it like a suburban haven in the heavens, including patio decks, trees, skylights and tennis courts.

It’s possible a future human colony somewhere other than Earth would be built in space, but most of the talk today focuses on Mars and other planets. If that planet is far away, however, humans will have to make themselves comfortable on the spaceship trip over, and this doesn’t look like a bad way to travel.

A planet born from dust

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-31-05Life on a gas giant forming in a young solar system would look up at the night sky and see more dust than stars. Photo: NASA

This artist imagined what an early solar system would look like as it grows, including a cloudy planet at least as large as Jupiter forming from the dust around its star, complete with a ring of dust and ice. “If we were to visit a planet like this, we would have a very different view of the universe,” NASA says. “The sky, instead of being the familiar dark expanse lit by distant stars, would be dominated by the thick disc of dust that fills this young planetary system.”

A land of three suns

screenshot-www.ibtimes.com-2017-05-06-12-31-17This moon orbits a planet that is in a solar system with three stars instead of one. Photo: NASA

Are three suns better than one? After astronomers for the first time found a planet within a triple-star system — in which three stars orbit the same point — an artist imagined what it would look like to live there. This view, NASA says, is from “a hypothetical moon in orbit” around that planet, a gas giant just a little bit more massive than Jupiter.

Noted Physicist Said We Have 1,000 Years Left On Earth

Discovery of a new world by NoiZe-B on DeviantArt


Stephen Hawking is making apocalyptic predictions again. The respected theoretical physicist warns that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species within the next century if we don’t want to go extinct. Last year, he prophesied that we had maybe 1,000 years left on Earth, and the inspiration for this newly-urgent timeline is unclear—except for the fact that Hawking’s new documentary about colonizing Mars is coming out soon.

To be sure, Earth is facing some big problems, including climate change, overpopulation, epidemics, and asteroid strikes. But before we flee this planet like an action hero jumping out of an explosion, let’s think about this for a second. Sure, it’d be great to have a backup civilization somewhere in case asteroids wipe out all life on Earth. And it would be one of the most exciting things humankind has ever done. But what would it actually require?

Finding a second home for humanity

Mars is a somewhat obvious choice because it’s nearby, but it’s not exactly Earth 2.0. In fact, it’s arguably a lot worse off than Earth. It has toxic soil, it’s freezing cold, and the air is unbreathable. Any Martian colony would likely rely on regular care packages from home, which would not work well if Earth was done-zo.

If we really want to find the perfect home away from home, we could look to other star systems: with billions of planets in the Milky Way, there’s a good chance some will have water, land, and breathable air. But so far we haven’t found Earth’s twin, and our telescopes don’t have the kind of resolution that could tell us in detail what an exoplanet is like. Also, it would take hundreds of years to get there, and if those passengers don’t die along the way, they’d likely evolve into a new species before they even got to their new planet.

Bringing enough people

We would need to send significant numbers of people to other worlds in order to ensure the survival of the human species. Small colonies are subject to genetic anomalies from inbreeding, and vulnerable to getting wiped out in accidents.

NASA’s missions to Mars will likely only carry as many as six people at a time to the red planet. SpaceX wants to develop an Interplanetary Transport System to deliver 100 Martian settlers at a time, but at the moment it is nothing more than an imaginary behemoth.

The interstellar route is even more challenging because we don’t even have an imaginary spacecraft capable of supporting thousands of people for hundreds of years on an interstellar journey.

And in either case, there’s always the politically charged question of: who goes and who stays? Do poor and disadvantaged people get left behind on a hellish world?

Making ourselves at home

If we really want to thrive on another planet, we’ll probably have to adapt the environment to suit our needs. Sure, we might be able to terraform Mars, but it would take about 100,000 years for its atmosphere to become breathable. Hope you’re not in a rush to go outdoors without a gas mask anytime soon.

Paying for it

NASA’s Journey to Mars is expected to cost up to $1.5 trillion. And that’s just for the first crews. Later on, launches bringing settlers and supplies to the colony would probably still cost hundreds of millions of dollars each.

And SpaceX’s plan to build the Interplanetary Transport System sounds great, but CEO Elon Musk has been very open about saying the company has no idea how it would pay for such a vessel.

And exactly who would pay to colonize Mars? Why would the U.S. government spend all that money to sustain a colony? What would we get out of it, besides better chances for the survival of our species? Will the Martian colony produce valuable exports, besides the (obviously awesome) scientific discoveries that would come out of it?

Surely there are a few wealthy Earthlings willing to pay millions of dollars each for a ride to and a habitat on an alien world, but the majority of folks who want to go to the red planet hope to come home afterward.

Solving the problems that are killing Earth

History has a tendency to repeat itself. Even if we do successfully colonize another planet, we’ll still have to solve all the problems that Earth currently faces. Our technologies are just as likely to destroy the environment on other planets, and epidemics and asteroids could wipe out a Martian settlement much easier than they could obliterate the entire population of Earth.

The television show that Stephen Hawking is promoting is all about how human ingenuity is solving the challenges of colonizing Mars. Well, surely if we can figure out how to survive on a completely alien world, then we can figure out how to survive in our own home -possibly a lot more easily and cheaply than the alternative.

Source: Stephen Hawking says we have 100 years to colonize a new planet … or die. Could we do it? | NJ.com