astronomy, image, pixel art, science, short, Space, Uncategorized

Pixel Solar System


(Click for full view.)

(Don’t worry. I’ve got one more bit of pixel art on the back burner, and after that, I’ll give it a break for a while.)

This is our solar system. Each pixel represents one astronomical unit, which is the average distance between Earth and Sun: 1 AU, 150 million kilometers, 93.0 million miles, 8 light-minutes and 19 light-seconds, 35,661 United States diameters, 389 times the Earth-Moon distance, or a 326-year road trip, if you drive 12 hours a day every day at roughly highway speed. Each row is 1000 pixels (1000 AU) across, and the slices are stacked so they fit in a reasonably-shaped image.

At the top-left of the image is a yellow dot representing the Sun. Mercury and Venus aren’t visible in this image. The next major body is the blue dot representing the Earth. Next comes a red dot representing Mars. Then Jupiter (peachy orange), Saturn (a salmon-pink color, which is two pixels wide because the difference between Saturn’s closest and furthest distance from the Sun is just about 1 AU), Uranus (cyan, elongated for the same reason), Neptune (deep-blue), Pluto (brick-red, extending slightly within the orbit of Neptune and extending significantly farther out), Sedna (a slightly unpleasant brownish), the Voyager 2 probe (yellow, inside the stripe for Sedna), Planet Nine (purple, if it exists; the orbits are quite approximate and overlap a fair bit with Sedna’s orbit). Then comes the Oort Cloud (light-blue), which extends ridiculously far and may be where some of our comets come from. After a large gap comes Proxima Centauri, the nearest (known) star, in orange. Alpha Centauri (the nearest star system known to host a planet) comes surprisingly far down, in yellow. All told, the image covers just over 5 light-years.


Pluto and Charon: Holy @#$%! we’re almost THERE!

You forget how fast the New Horizons Pluto probe is actually moving (13 times faster than a rifle bullet, relative to Pluto; 15 times, relative to the Sun) until you realize how much our pictures of Pluto and its moons have improved just in the last few days. In a way, it’s awesome for impatient people like me. In another way, it’s kind of a shame. New Horizons isn’t going to get the chance to go into a nice orbit and map that weird spot that looks like a pimple, or the big whale-shaped patch, or those things that look maddeningly like dark rivers. But hey, it’s better than no pictures of Pluto at all, and I take off every hat I’ve ever worn to the New Horizons team in celebration.

Unluckily for me, I’ll be at work during the actual flyby (although I may sneak in a couple extra “bathroom” breaks. Normal men use their bathroom breaks for porn. I use mine to look at Pluto. And I’m fine with that.) But, in celebration of the big day, here’s another bit of enhancement work. These are the latest images I could download of Pluto and Charon from New Horizons’ LORRI imager. Same process as last time: I stretched their contrast, then applied an unsharp mask to bring out the fine details, at the cost of losing some of that contrast.

Pluto and Charon Jul 13


Pluto and Charon with SURFACE DETAIL!

Being an enormous nerd, I’ve been following the New Horizons mission to Pluto since it was launched in 2006. I was in high school. (I used to be a teenager! Can you believe it?) I can’t imagine what it’s been like for the New Horizons team, waiting for nine years, most of that with New Horizons in hibernation, waiting and hoping. But, in spite of July 4th’s technical glitch, good old New Horizons is starting to send back some really cool images of Pluto, its big moon Charon, and its tiny moons Nix, Hydra, Kerebos, and Styx.

I took the liberty of downloading the latest published image from New Horizons’ LORRI camera (as of this writing on July 9th, 2015) . I cut the image up and processed the images of Pluto and Charon separately. I stretched their contrast (so that the brightest pixel in each image is pure white and the darkest pixel is pure black; thanks GIMP!) then applied a small-radius unsharp mask to bring out the details. I then joined the images side-by-side. I haven’t rescaled them, so they’re pixelized. Their relative brightnesses aren’t accurate (Charon’s a lot darker than Pluto), but their relative sizes are. Here you go:

Pluto and Charon Enhanced

Of course, in the days leading up to New Horizons’ July 14th, 2015 flyby of Pluto, my piddly little enhancements are going to be blown out of the water by real, up-close, high-resolution pictures. And you know what? I don’t mind a bit!