As an artist I am totally fascinated by the surfaces of other worlds. I find the images taken by solar system explorers very inspiring. Many of my canvases emerge directly from my observations of a tiny fraction of an image or are influenced by an entire object or discovery.
One of the biggest influences on me has been the Cassini Mission to Saturn . In 2004 I got involved with The Saturn Observation Campaign, an educational program to promote the Cassini Mission. Over the years I have delivered hundreds of workshops for children in which thousands of drawings inspired by the mission were produced. September 15th 2017 will see the grand finale of the mission with a spectacular plunging of the spacecraft into the folds of the gaseous atmosphere of the planet. Even though Cassini is the size of a school bus and has power onboard it can never escape the gravity of the gas giant . Rather than let the end of the mission be controlled by time, mechanics and gravity the Cassini team are controlling the spacecraft to glean new knowledge in its final few months. Cassini will glide over and plunge through the quarter of a million mile wide ice rings getting closer to the planet than ever dared before . The deliberate plunging finale will end the mission. This death dive will protect Saturn's ice and rocky moons from contamination. As it does so the spacecrafts cameras will take what may be the most visually impressive images of both the planet and its ring system ever seen.
My painting of Saturn and its edge on rings, is influenced by several of the images taken by the spacecraft during it mission. There is an awe and a wonder so profound in many of the Cassini visuals. Indeed if some of these images were in an art gallery they would stop viewers in their tracks such is their visual power . We are so privileged to glimpse the Saturnian system through the cameras onboard . The mission is one of the greatest space exploration missions of our time not only for the science but for the visual beauty of the spacescapes it captures to share with us. The endurance of this Earth built craft is a testament to the quality of engineering afforded to the mission by NASA , ESA and the Italian Space Agency . The Cassini spacecraft is itself part of my painting, projecting ahead to the end of the mission. As preparation I did a small maquette painting of Cassini before painting a more detailed spacecraft on the large canvas. This detailed Cassini was then engulfed by gold particles some blown by myself some I allowed the Earths wind to blow for me.
In the painting we are viewing Saturn’s Rings edge on, the shadows of the rings are cast over the gas body of the planet. A raging storm is also shown , the atmosphere of Saturn churned up in a frenzy of winds we could never imagine here on Earth. The spacecraft is custom covered in a golden protective blanket to deflect the heat of the sun, thereby keeping its instruments cool. My painting shows that protection being stripped off the spacecraft in a stylized way.
Its protective blanket will no longer be needed, but Cassini will leave us with a golden legacy that is unprecedented in science and beauty. My painting includes gold particles disseminated throughout the work. Cassini is merging into Saturn in particles, just as Saturn merged into Cassini through its outstanding visual exploration.
Follow the Mission here
Exploring the Solar System
- Exploring the Solar System: The Mass of the Sun
- Marvellous Mars Drawing Workshop at Dunsink Observatory Dublin
- Astronomical Sketching – Education in action
- Stars Wonderful Stars at Wexford Town Library Ireland
- Get ready the Perseids are coming
- Space the final Frontier – World Space Week 2016
- On the richness of the lunar surface
- Dark Sky Magic at Ballycroy National Park Mayo Ireland
- Grand Finale – Painting inspired by the Cassini Mission to Saturn
- Cosmic Lobster Pot
- A Slice of Solar Drawing in h-alpha