Friday, October 20, 2006

He Pictures the Big Picture

I read an essay by the planetary scientist and space artist William K. Hartmann in a book I got recently, Worlds Beyond (The Thrill of Planetary Exploration, 2002, edited by S. Alan Stern, the principal investigator on NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto). This is a very interesting book because in it, ten planetary scientists talk not only about their work, but about how they got interested in planetary science in the first place, and what it is they are most excited and curious about.

Hartmann is an especially interesting case - a planetary scientist who has done important scientific work (e.g., he was one of the originators of the now generally accepted theory of the Moon's formation as a large chunk of the early Earth's mantle ejected in a collision with a Mars-size object) but who has also painted many detailed, scientifically accurate, and attractive paintings of astronomical and terrestrial subjects. His paintings have appeared in many books and museums. He is also the author of the excellent Traveller's Guide to Mars (which I have) and other popular science works, not to mention a SF novel (Mars Underground) which I have not yet read. Quite an impressive resume and gallery! I've just ordered a used copy of another book co-written and illustrated by him, The Grand Tour (A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System).

The Hartmann painting above shows an asteroid approaching Earth. Hartmann believes that while science depends on details, it's also important to keep the big picture in sight - and his paintings help us do just that.

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