‘O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!
To which those restless souls that ceaselessly
Throng through the human universe, aspire!
Thou consummation of all mortal hope!
Thou glorious prize of blindly working will,
Whose rays, diffused throughout all space and time,
Verge to one point and blend forever there!
Of purest spirits thou pure dwelling-place
Where care and sorrow, impotence and crime,
Languor, disease and ignorance dare not come!
O happy Earth, reality of Heaven!
– An excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Queen Mab
For as long as humankind has been on this planet we have looked to the stars with curiosity and reverence. Even now our Universe is beyond our understanding and comprehension. As our technology becomes more advanced, we are capable of seeing universal phenomenon with more fidelity, often making me second guess if the images are actually artistic interpretations. And yet there are still a plethora of objects and events that are specks in the distance. We know they are occurring, however it is difficult to visualize them with any detail.
This is where astronomical artists hit the scene. With their paint brushes and computer animations, they create intense scenes of alien planets and galactic explosion. These artists bring to life what our imaginations are not capable of illustrating. Planets that are void of life, yet explode with volcanic eruptions and meteor collisions. Gases and cosmic dust rise like plumes or spiral in all directions from star-spawning nebula.
Lucien Rudaux is one of the first known astronomical artists, creating alien landscapes in the late 1800’s. His paintings were more realistic then spectacular. He depicted the moon as it really was, with gradual slopes instead of precipitous cliffs. His landscapes are prudent even today, with great detail and soft colors.
David Hardy has been making space art since the 1950’s. He created illustrations for a number of publications including books and magazines, and has even published a science fiction novel, Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds. Many of these space artists also illustrate science fiction and fantasy works along with hypothetical drawings of planets breaking apart or asteroids colliding with earth. Some of my favorite off-shoots are dinosaur depictions.
Mark Garlick began with galactic paintings, has tried his hand at digital images and has recently done a number of animations. HIs pieces include some comparing the size of the planets and stars, another of a black hole and one hypothesizing how Mars would look after terra-forming. There are a number of artists that contribute to this body of work. You can find more information about astronomical artists and their work at the International Association of Astronomical Artists,