Imagining Other Worlds: Artists' Impressions of Planets Outside Our Solar System

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I have long been a fan of the artistic rendering of a scientific phenomenon. I got hooked through dinosaur paintings and black hole renderings, but really fell in love when I started reporting on exoplanets. While some dinosaur imaginings are legitimately beautiful, most planetary renderings are plainly utilitarian. We don't know much about the exoplanets, so artists shy away from details even as they provide bloggers with something to stick at the top of their posts (we're not above that, either!). Take the announcement yesterday of a planet orbiting two stars like the planet Tatooine in Star Wars. In the rendering that NASA released, the planet is barely visible, just a circular smudge of brown and orange. Certainly, these computer-generated drawings are nowhere near as complex as the images that our probes have brought back of our solar system's planets.

Nonetheless, there is an appeal to these images: they leave a lot to the imagination. And given that we won't have any actual images of planets outside our solar for the foreseeable future, they are the best we've got. Check out more exoplanet images below.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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