We learn about our Solar System at an early age. We’re taught that Jupiter is large, that Saturn has rings, and that Mars is red. They are portrayed to us as indistinct circles, aligned evenly throughout our celestial neighborhood and all warmed by the Sun, positioned at the center of it all. Beyond these rudimentary facts and perceptions, however, there’s a tendency to explore little more. Often we fail to appreciate that our planetary neighbors play a large part in the existence of us. Earth as we know it is protected by gas giants that, with their gravitational pull, ensnare asteroids before they can reach Earth. In a time of great chaos, during the formation of our Solar System, the very impacts we hope to avoid today may have seeded life on Earth with organic matter that traversed space from an adjacent planet’s upheaval.
We reside in a vacuum of space and time that few understand enough to convey. It’s our inheritance as a species, a collective mystery of how and why we exist where we do. Whether this awareness compels us to seek answers through science or religion, we are all forced to contemplate our place in the universe.
My thesis is about the planets of our Solar System. Often we’re captivated by images of star fields spanning the universe, or swirling galaxies, yet our Planets seem passé. As technology advances we are able to see further into the Universe and our awe of it’s complexity overshadows what is at our doorstep. Today, it’s not uncommon to see news of discovered exoplanets or “sister earths”. Our hunt for familiarity throughout the cosmos is human, we don’t want to feel anomalous or alone. There is a linear path in our capability to observe space and discern it accurately. The first telescopes, albeit crude and blurred, offered unprecedented views of our closest counterparts. Sketches noting characteristics our Moon’s geography and of nearby planets provided the public with the first detailed images of the worlds beyond Earth. As the understanding of optics improved so did our comprehension of the universe’s makeup. Claims of observed structures made by an intelligent species covering vast amounts of a planetary surface ignited speculation of habitable worlds nearby. We tend to see what we want and early astronomers, and academics were no exception. As science advanced observation and research methodologies improved and our definition of life expanded.
The aim of my thesis is to describe the planets in an unique way. As a designer, I am inclined to create order from chaos and visually convey ideas. When the subject matter is the planets the idea of “order” and “chaos” become blurred. Perceived chaos via fundamental order, and conversely perceived order via fundamental chaos. Micro and macro focus alter our notion of Space. Planets silently, ceaselessly orbiting in the black of space, whilst unimaginable weather rages within them and we can see said examples. However, gravity, time and expansion; forces causing the behavior of our Solar System go unseen without the aid of specialized equipment. Yet unknowingly their effects are felt, it is simply easier to accept what we can see.
The potential outcome of my thesis varied throughout the year, but my intentions did not. I planned to create a design system, derived from the math of each planet’s characteristics. For a large amount of time my final asset was to be a book. It was not meant to educate the reader about the Solar System, in fact the content could be anything at all. The focus was it’s framework and the context in which it was built. Similarly to when I spoke of micro and macro observations of Space, it’s content, was to be intelligible and engaging. It’s framework, effecting the position and flow of content, but much like gravity, unseen. Quickly, scaling such enormous objects and the distances between them became difficult. In preliminary layout designs I attempted to map the first twenty-three of Jupiter’s sixty-seven moons, by distance, from the planet’s center. At a set scale that would allow for even a pinpoint sized graphic of each moon to show it would have taken 170, 18 x 24 inch spreads to map linearly. A new approach was needed and additional factors considered.
It’s easy to misjudge the vastness of the solar system, in fact, its improbably not to, it’s magnitude is daunting. My focus needed to broaden and away from size and distance and explore other attributes. Time, atmospheric composition, ring systems, position, moons, axial tilt, temperature range, radiation levels, magnetic fields, core size, core composition and distance from the sun were all tested. All have been expressed mathematically, it was a matter researching and developing a way to visualize them.
My visual research included the use of a various mediums. I painted, collaged, drew, and created digital assets. Experimenting with different methods was immensely helpful in my decision of a final aesthetic. Having a variety of assets allowed me test the potential of combined styles throughout the book, a distinct look for each planet or planetary characteristic was alluring. However, the goal of my final assets was to be part of a cohesive system, guided by math, and vastly different visuals became convoluted.
An important aspect of this project for me was to allow the viewer to create their own narrative. I started to play with the idea of a system that integrated the same math but that formed stand alone images for each planet. The idea of drawing the viewer into an abstracted image and having them imagining the dynamics were fitting for my goals. Transitioning between observations of each image we are left to hold what we observe and compare each piece in our mind, filling in the gaps with our own interpretation. As a whole the narrative is clear, the viewer can see this direct translation of form through the work. Each part of the visual system in the same position but the math dictating the density, size and numbers of particular variables.
When we look up into the night sky, whether with the naked eye or through aid of a telescope, we never see them all at one time. They are only stitched together by us to see the larger picture. As I learned more about the placement stars and planets and was able to navigate from one point to the next my enjoyment only increased. These moments of discovery and understanding were what I hope to achieve in my exhibition and thesis as a whole.
My fascination with space is largely about people. Writers, television personalities, lecturers and documentarians. My awe of space, however authored, was always made better when conveyed by those who were enthusiastic about the subject. As beautiful as images of our celestial neighborhood and universe are, for me there is an equal fascination of the people with the intelligence to understand the cosmos and discuss it with us.