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

By Alexis C. Madrigal
tattoine.jpg

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/09/imagining-other-worlds-artists-impressions-of-planets-outside-our-solar-system/245207/