- Art by Judy Schmidt

Latest Art

Note: For the latest Hubble processing, try my Flickr gallery. My website is updated less often.

Dawn of Infrared Astronomy (Digital Painting)

Dawn of Infrared Astronomy

Some JWST inspired art. I tried to make something kind of magical, because that’s what I think this telescope will be. I don’t know who the first person to say JWST would begin the dawn of infrared astronomy was, but I took it a bit literally by placing the primary mirror as a kind of sun within a landscape.

The mesas and land formations are comprised of NIRCam filter throughput curves, so if it looks strange to you, that’s why. Infrared astronomy is fairly strange to most people. The sky texture is my Cygnus-X mosaic, which is an infrared image. The colorful light emanating from the primary mirror is actually created by using some simulated PSFs available from this page. I try to keep it nerdy.

NASA wants your JWST-inspired art, too.…

Protostar (Digital Painting)


This is an accretion disk around a forming protostar. The accretion disk is like two bowls with their bottoms up against one another. It’s very thin in the middle and flares out along the outer rims. For some reason which remains unknown to me, fast, collimated outflows or jets can erupt along the poles of the forming star. It’s either got something to do with magnetism or something to do with the way the outer envelope falls into the star… or maybe both, or something else? Turns out I have no idea what I’m doing.

The thin, dusty envelope was the hardest thing for me to figure out how to illustrate. It’s huge, everywhere, and falling down into the accreting protostar, and tends to get in our way of seeing these things because there’s so much of it.

Once again, I used Blender to help me visualize the dusty cloud. A lot of painting went over the top of that to add details that are very difficult to create in a volume model with Blender.

The PSF was modeled with Tiny Tim.

Protoplanetary Disk (Digital Painting)

Protoplanetary Disk

There is a long list of space illustrations which bother me for a variety of reasons, and images of protoplanetary disks are a big offender. While I’m not entirely pleased with my own rendition and may try again at a later point, several key issues are addressed:

1. The star is a point source. You will never see anything but a point source at the scale of planetary disks.
2. Just as you will never see the star as anything but a point, you will also never see any planets. At most, if you were looking in the infrared, you would see another point source many orders of magnitude dimmer than the parent star. It would have its own PSF (point spread function) and that’s it. Maybe I could put a dim point source in one of those empty lanes. It’s possible. I’ll think about it.
3. Because there are no visibly large planets, there are no shadows being cast by them. Even if you were next to a planet, you probably wouldn’t see any shadows because “god ray” style shadows depicted in sci-fi movies and art require very specific conditions to occur and probably never happen in space quite like that. Larger scale shadows, sure. We have even seen those recently, but that shadow is cast by perturbations of Earth-orbit-sized structures of the disk itself, not some puny little planet.

Anyway, here are some further thoughts running through my head when illustrating this:

Looking at ALMA and Hubble imagery of real planetary disks, I find them to be astonishingly regular. There are some leftover bumps and blips in Hubble’s images, but that’s from the star’s PSF, not necessarily part of the disk itself. So I assume they are very, very circular and smooth. Something like Saturn’s rings.

Understanding basic orbital mechanics and also from studying larger scale disk objects, I guess that they are fluffier as distance from the star increases. I tried to show that. I put some texture in the diffuse foreground ridge and made sure the dust significantly reddened the light passing through it. It might still be too dense at this point, which I imagine to be around 120 AU from the star.

I also imagined an extremely tenuous spherical orb of dust which is denser near the star and virtually nonexistent farther out. You can see it peeking out from under the foreground dust ring. The idea here is that even though this disk is regular now, in the past it had a tumultuous beginning before the angular momentum of the matter swirling around the star settled into its average position like this. Over millions of years this and all dust is dragged into the star, but before that happens, maybe a little is leftover to slowly spiral inward. Just an idea. Possibly totally wrong.

I used Hubble’s PSF for the star. I’m a fan. So what. If you noticed that before reading this, then count yourself as either very experienced with Hubble or very perceptive. The PSF was modeled with Tiny Tim.

Saturn Ring Particles (Digital Painting)

Saturn Ring Particles

These things always have a way of looking vaguely wrong. We don’t know what Saturn’s rings look like up close, though they are simple to describe. This section is comprised of meter-sized blocks of pure water ice. We do know what water ice looks like, but how does it go from block of ice to the intricate ring system of Saturn?

Perhaps one day we will find out, but for now all we have is art.  I doubt mine will be any closer to the truth. If we do ever get pictures, we can compare all the depictions and see who was closest.

Future travelers should avoid passing too close to the rings. There are many depictions of the asteroid belt in science fiction movies looking something like this. In reality, the asteroid belt is almost entirely empty space which makes it a lot safer than Saturn’s rings.

There is a chance that the Cassini spacecraft could strike one of these particles during the final phase of its mission, but the scientists are very good at their jobs and made sure to minimize the risk so that all continues as planned. It’s certainly not traveling anywhere near the larger pieces, but even a very tiny one could really do some damage. Cassini’s mission will end this September, and a lot of people will cry. I might be one of them.

I used a particle system in Blender to create a basic image and then did some digital painting to make it look a little less like a 3D render.

This was guest blogged over at The Planetary Society:

A Night on Saturn (Digital Painting)

A Night on Saturn

You can’t get much astronomy done on Saturn. The rings shine all night and there’s nowhere to put a telescope down.

Something different from me. Wouldn’t it be something to see the real thing? The rings were rendered in Blender just for a rough start and then I painted the atmosphere, clouds, etc. I thought maybe there would be some atmospheric reddening and a little refraction going on at the horizon. I’ve always enjoyed painting clouds.

About eight hours of work total.

Golden Rocks (Sketches)

Golden Rocks

1.5 hr Photoshop sketch; Inspired by a painting seen in a funeral home. It was a rough few months.

NGC 1569: Realm of Starburst (Hubble Processing)

NGC 1569: Realm of Starburst

Here’s something done a little differently. The datasets for this brilliant little galaxy are somewhat awkward to compose an image with. There’s near-infrared, red, some H-alpha, and some old WFPC2 green, H-beta and [OIII] available. Long story short, if you try to put them together it almost doesn’t matter what way you do it—funky colors ensue. There’s not enough blue to balance out the image even if you stack all the old WFPC2 imagery together, which I did. In the end, I made those lovely clouds H-alpha purple. I think it looks pretty good. It’s not typical at all, but sometimes you just have to throw out conventions to solve a puzzle. Once I decided to ditch red as an option for the H-alpha, everything fell together quite nicely.

If you prefer a more “natural” treatment of the colors, check out the HubbleSite press release image. Maybe you’ll notice the interesting greenish halo around it. That’s what I mean by the filters being hard to work with.

Previously I posted a close-up image of the three superclusters in this galaxy. You can sort of see them in this picture but they’re all blown out from being overexposed at observation so if you want to see the clusters better, head over to the supercluster image for a more detailed look.

Red: HST_10885_01_ACS_WFC_F814W_sci
Green: HST_10885_02_ACS_WFC_F606W_sci
Blue: hst_08133_01_wfpc2_f547m_wf_sci + hst_08133_01_wfpc2_f502n_wf_sci + hst_08133_01_wfpc2_f487n_wf_sci
Violet: HST_10885_06_ACS_WFC_F658N_sci1

North is NOT up. It is 23.3° clockwise from up.

Super Clusters in NGC 1569 (Hubble Processing)

Super Clusters in NGC 1569

A recent thread at Asterisk (this is APOD’s discussion forum) got me looking at this beautiful object and the data in Hubble’s archive. I noticed there was a very intimate look at the center of this starburst galaxy featuring many bright, young stars comprising super star clusters and decided to process it, making sure not to over brighten the star clusters so that as many details would remain preserved as possible.

In the center is Cluster A, which is actually two clusters which are called A1 and A2. At lower left, the next brightest cluster is called Cluster B. To the upper right is Cluster C, which is somewhat enshrouded in nebula.

Other star clusters are also visible as dimmer, soft yellow blobs which almost look like elliptical galaxies because it’s very hard to make out any individual members. I’m not sure what kind of star clusters those are. To me they look a lot like small globular clusters. One may be tempted to conclude that we are seeing the life cycle of globular clusters in some kind of holy grail moment, but something tells me that if that were the case it would have made headlines somewhere. Our knowledge about the formation of globular clusters is murky at best. Does NGC 1569 offer any insights?

This image is possible thanks to the following HST proposal:
Starburst Galaxies and Their Population of Super Star Clusters

Red: HST_10885_06_ACS_WFC_F658N_sci
Green: HST_9300_02_ACS_HRC_F555W_sci
Blue: HST_9300_02_ACS_HRC_F330W_sci

North is NOT up. It is 18.4° clockwise from up.

Lonely Lenticular (Hubble Processing)

Lonely Lenticular

This galaxy was imaged as part of the Coma Cluster survey before the ACS suffered an electrical problem and failed in the middle of this work, leaving the survey only 28% complete. This galaxy is not in the midst of the cluster but rather on the outskirts.

Identified as PGC (principle galaxy catalog) 83677, the symmetrical shape is neither spiral nor elliptical, but rather something in between. Little if any star formation is occurring and perhaps one day this lenticular galaxy will lose its disc shape, rings, and bar to become a smooth, spherical elliptical. It seems very serene to me with its old stars glowing calmly and its lack of close neighbors.

However, not all is quiet. Within the galactic nucleus, an active black hole is likely present, evidenced by its brightness in x-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The saturation of the colors in this image has been increased to make the oranges and cyans more apparent.

This image is possible thanks to the following HST proposal:
An ACS Treasury Survey of the Coma cluster of galaxies

Red: HST_10861_78_ACS_WFC_F814W_sci
Green: Pseudo
Blue: HST_10861_78_ACS_WFC_F475W_sci

North is NOT up. It is 45.1° clockwise from up.

Cosmic Smudge (Hubble Processing)

Cosmic Smudge

This asymmetrical congregation of stars is nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 4789A, seen at a distance of about 4 Mpc or around 14 million light years. The colors here are greatly emphasized and so the galaxy appears quite blue. There does appear to be some star formation going on, so the coloration is not totally misleading. However, some bluish, nebular patches would be much better represented by red, signifying the emission of H-alpha from those clouds. There is no H-alpha data available for me to make that change to the image, unfortunately, so the current processing will have to do.

For this picture I also used a new technique to try to increase the color variation since it is only a bicolor image. Bicolor images are usually presented in orange and cyan, which can otherwise be described as a red and blue channel with the green generated by averaging the red and blue together. I have done just that with this image, but additionally I adjusted the purest cyan and purest orange parts to be more blue and more red, respectively. I think it worked very well, especially for those background galaxies.

The chip gap has been filled with cloned data. It is located horizontally at around the bottom 5th of the image. Several background galaxies intersected it and for three of them interpolated their missing parts by copying and rotating them 180° to complete their missing halves.

My friend’s cat died recently so I named this image after her cat whose name was Smudge. If you would like to see Smudge, a video of her being adorable is available here.

This image is possible thanks to the following HST proposal:
The Dynamic State of the Dwarf Galaxy Rich Canes Venatici I Region

Red: HST_10905_15_ACS_WFC_F814W_sci
Green: Pseudo
Blue: HST_10905_15_ACS_WFC_F606W_sci

North is NOT up. It is 55.4° counter-clockwise from up.

See more art >