A Planetary Palette

Titan Unveiled – Courtest NASA/JPL-Caltech (l); ESA (c and r)

Excerpt: On assignment for Astronomy Magazine

One hundred and thirty-seven light years distant, a bigger-than-Jupiter planet circles a bright yellow star in the constellation Aquarius. The giant planet, named HD222582 b, orbits its star once every 576 days, its eccentric orbit varying from 0.39 to 2.31 AU. Nearby, a likely companion moon spins through space, its water freezing and melting as the seasons turn.

Although astronomers can’t see the surface of the planet or its probable moon, the art of Lynette Cook has brought this distant system to life. Cook, the only space artist specializing in extrasolar worlds, creates portraits of planets so distant they’ve only been discovered in the last several years.

Cook, along with other space artists like Kim Poor and Don Davis, have been compared to the Romantic Realists of the Hudson River School—an art movement of the mid-19th Century that embraced the dramatic American landscape. But instead of capturing Earth’s unexplored frontier, Cook’s vistas are worlds we may never see except in her art.