Gorgeous planet art

By Phil Plait | August 15, 2011 10:25 am

I’m always comparing astronomy to art, and sometimes that’s literally true, like when artist David Fuhrer creates amazing near-3D images of the planets:

That’s very cool, and even niftier, they’re to scale! The colors aren’t real — the image of Venus (next to Earth) he used is from radar mapping of the planet from the Magellan spacecraft, and Mercury (second from left) is actually a relatively uniform grey — but this really gives you a sense of the innermost terrestrial planets (and one bonus Moon — ours, all the way on the left in that image).

I also really like his depiction of Saturn. It makes me wish this were a real objet d’art; I’d love one for my living room.

You should also check out this family portrait of all the planets together — man, Jupiter and Saturn are way bigger even than Uranus and Neptune!

These images were created for a TV documentary, and I’ve filed David’s name away if I ever need it for something like this. He has other cool images, too. Digital imagery is really amazing, and I wonder how many people have been introduced to art — both the creation and appreciation of it — due to its advent?

Images used by permission of David Fuhrer. Tip o’ the electron to srahhh on Twitter.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Art, David Fuhrer, planets

Comments (37)

Links to this Post

  1. The Odd Family | Rearranging Prejudices | August 15, 2011
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  1. Cindy

    I teach high school physics and sometimes have kids who are good at art and also science. I keep telling them that there are ways to combine both disciplines and this is a great example.

    Those do look like they would make cool art objects. However with two little kids at home I could just imagine hearing “Uh oh, you just broke Saturn!”

  2. Brian

    Truly amazing – thanks for the new desktop image!

  3. Hmm. I like them, but I don’t like how the colors have been enhanced so much. I think he also went overboard on limb darkening ant atmospheric brightening — especially on Earth and Neptune. They’re pretty, and I agree with you on Saturn, but I think he would have done better to leave them a bit more realistic. And I’ve actually seen Mercury depicted before as an orange-yellow — any idea why?

  4. Nick

    Still, I see Pluto gets no love…

  5. I like them but have just one quibble. One thing I love about Saturn is that the planet’s distortion is quite noticeable. It’s REALLY stretched at the equator. In this picture it seems too spherical to me.

    But setting that aside, they are lovely.

  6. J Marton

    That Saturn would be a wonderful table sculpture or centerpiece just like that tipped on its side propped on the rings.

  7. OtherRob

    I’ve known for a long time that Mars is much smaller than Earth, but for some reason I still imagine it as about the same size. So images like this always take me aback for a second.

    It is gorgeous, though. :)

  8. QuietDesperation

    And I’ve actually seen Mercury depicted before as an orange-yellow — any idea why?

    Orange-yellow is the new gray. Mercury is a slave to fashion trends.

  9. Mark

    There are some images that feel like an open-palm smack into the center of your chest… that Family Portrait is one of them. It really gives you a sense of how big some of these things are.

  10. mike burkhart

    Verry good art , I think he should go to Hollywood his talents could make the planets sceen in scifi films look good . #5 QuietDesperation Mercury looks orange in my telescope but to a space probe camera thats in orbit it’s surface looks gray , things in the universe are not allways as they look form Earth.

  11. Cyn

    Very nice and beautiful colors!

  12. Cyn

    Very nice and beautiful colors!

  13. J Marton

    Kill this in moderation, please

    Phil, if you decide you want a sculpture like that in acrylic, I know a guy.

  14. Arthur Maruyama

    I think the illustrations by David Fuhrer are wonderful, BUT isn’t the Moon a bit too small in the top image? I’ve downloaded that image and cut-n-pasted Mars, Mercury and the Moon on top of the Earth. While the first two are close enough to actual relative sizes–Mars a bit more than half Earth’s diameter and Mercury’s diameter a bit more than a third that of the Earth–the Moon’s diameter is about half that of Mercury and about a sixth the diameter of the Earth when the Moon’s diameter should be a bit more than a third of the Mercurian diameter and a bit more than a quarter that of Earth.

    There is a similar problem for the Moon in the family portrait as well. While in that image Uranus seems to be smaller than Neptune, it appears that this can be excused by Uranus being behind both Saturn and Jupiter (judging from the shadows).

    Just for completeness, the diameters in miles and sizes relative to Earth of the Solar System planets and the Moon in increasing sizes:
    2158 0.273 Moon
    3032 0.383 Mercury
    4220 0.532 Mars
    7520 0.950 Venus
    7916 1.000 Earth
    30775 3.87 Neptune
    31763 3.98 Uranus
    74898 9.14 Saturn
    86881 10.97 Jupiter

  15. Charles

    Agree with Stuart at #3 – the colors are over-saturated and the contrast is a bit much. I’m not sure what the intention was, it’s less educational (because it’s less accurate), and I don’t think it looks better aesthetically, either (the artist clearly disagrees, as the supersaturated-crushed-blacks look is visible throughout his portfolio).

    That said, I also agree that the sense of volume and relative scale is very effective, and it would be nice to have these as actual physical objects – maybe made out of some kind of plexiglass or something. In the correct colors.

  16. Arthur Maruyama

    Oops! In my post above make that “the Moon’s diameter should be a bit more than TWO-thirds of the Mercurian diameter.”

  17. Cindy:

    However with two little kids at home I could just imagine hearing “Uh oh, you just broke Saturn!”

    <humor type=”juvenile”>
    Which sounds a lot better than “Uh oh, you just broke Uranus!”

  18. I lovelovelove how he placed them on planes, especially Saturn and the way it’s tilted as if it’s resting against the floor. Where was this stuff in my science books in high school and college?!

    Maybe I’ve found a new calling for my graphic design skills after all…

    Tip o’ the electron to you as well, Mr. Plait :)

  19. Andy

    “… I’ve filed David’s name away if I never need it for something like this.”

    I think you meant ever instead of never, surprised no one has caught it yet.

  20. andy

    Count me in with those who feel these are way too saturated and contrasty. I’ve seen better examples of this kind of thing which weren’t nearly so garish.

  21. Those are neat artworks – vibrant and vivid would be my description of them rather than “garish” but I guess art is always going to be a subjective thing. I like ’em. :-)

    @4. Nick :“Still, I see Pluto gets no love…”

    It does from me. 😉

    They should include Pluto, Eris, Makemake and the other ice dwarf type planets. A dwarf planet is no less a planet than a dwarf person is a person.

  22. QuietDesperation

    things in the universe are not allways as they look form Earth.


    Wow, so Mercury is not a slave to fashion. It is merely ugly.

    I probably should have put a smiley up there.

  23. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ QuietDesperation : Ugliness like beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. 😉

  24. Aubri

    Family Portrait — new desktop wallpaper!

  25. Thameron

    So exactly when did Venus, Mars and Mercury come between the Earth and Moon? Someone should notify Velikovsky!

  26. Jabjabs

    Checking over his work on his website it turns out that half my desktop backgrounds are from David 😀

  27. stjobe

    Is it just me, or does Jupiter have a big smiley face in that family portrait?

    Also, either my estimates of Jupiter/Saturn or Neptune/Uranus sizes were waaay off… I had the four of them pegged as roughly the same size in my mind…

  28. James

    What I find even more mind blowing is that as big as the planets seem they make up only about .2 % of the mass of the Sun. Basically if you want to include the sun in that family picture just colore the background orange. The universe rapidly outscales our ability to really comprehend it.

  29. I made this one several years ago, using pictures from several sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/julesstoop/316661006/sizes/o/in/photostream/

    I however really like the way he turns the planets into tangible objects the size of pieces on a table. I have to agree though with some of the other people whom responded that our moon seems too small and Saturn and Jupiter are to close too perfect spheres, whilst in reality they are rather oblate.

  30. @James,

    I once showed my son (then 6, I believe) a website that showed objects scaling from the Earth to Jupiter and the Sun and so on. (There are some stars that make our Sun look like an ant.) He was amazed but I don’t think his brain truly comprehended the magnitude of the size difference. Then again, I don’t think people’s brains really can comprehend it fully. We can approximate it in our minds and look at the numbers, but the sheer size of some of these celestial objects is amazing.

    Not what I showed my son, but I did a quick search and turned this up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEheh1BH34Q&feature=related

  31. With some tricks and metafores our brains can perfectly comprehend the scale of the universe. Use the size of a human being as the scale. Compare it to an ant, a mountain, or compare a household to a stadium full of people, to a city built from stadiums – filled with people. How big is the moon compared to the earth? If you were as big as the earth, the moon would be no bigger than your cat or rabbit. How big is Jupiter compared to the earth? If you were as big as the earth, Jupiter would be the size of a whale etc.. In that way – in my humble experience – we can develop a true sense of scale and – for instance – really develop a feeling for the difference between a million and a billion when we talk about economics or politics.

  32. Silent Bob

    @ 23 Messier Tidy Upper

    They should include Pluto, Eris, Makemake and the other […] dwarf […] planets.

    Eh? But they are included!

    Oh. No, sorry. After wiping the dust off my monitor they’re gone.


  33. It’s funny. The “family portrait” really does look like mom, dad, and the kids to me.

    Neptune and Uranus are teenagers, while Earth and Venus are elementary school kids, with Mars and Mercury toddlers, and the newborn Moon.

    On a related note, I’ve thought up a neat idea: high-res planet Christmas tree ornaments. Someone with more art skllz than me should make them.

  34. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (23) said:

    They should include Pluto, Eris, Makemake and the other ice dwarf type planets. A dwarf planet is no less a planet than a dwarf person is a person.

    Here you go again.

    And you still haven’t made a convincing argument.


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