The brush strokes of star birth

By Phil Plait | September 17, 2012 6:30 am

Every now and again I see something so simply stunning that it leaves me speechless.

OK, I’m kidding; I’m never speechless. But this really is flipping amazing.

Tell me: which of these two pictures below is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the nebula Sharpless 2-106, a massive young star blasting out jets of gas, and which is a painting by my delightful space artist friend Lucy West?

… or …

You might be forgiven if it’s not easy to tell. Of course, the one on the bottom has Lucy’s signature on it, making this task somewhat easier. But seriously, if I showed you just the art itself, you’d have a hard time telling which is which. FYI, it’s acrylic on canvas, and is 30" by 48".

Lucy is seriously good. I met her at SpaceFest IV and we hit it off instantly – she’s smart, funny, and holy cow, what an amazing artist. When she posted that photo of her painting on Facebook, I immediately asked her if I could put it up here. Wow.

And she picked a heckuva target to paint. Sharpless 2-106 is a complex, gorgeous nebula, which I explained in detail in an earlier post. If you want – and you do – here’s a higher-res version of the Hubble shot, and Lucy has a somewhat bigger shot of her painting on her website. She also has a look at the process she did to make the painting , too, which is fascinating.

Do yourself a favor, and do what I do: surround yourself with smart, talented friends. They make life far more interesting, and far more fun to live.

Image credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Lucy West (used by permission)

Related Posts:

Epic tantrum thrown by 30 octillion ton baby
When a star struggles to be free of its chrysalis
The gorgeous birth pangs of young stars
Come to SpaceFest IV!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (26)

  1. John EB Good

    Got it without noticing the signature. The more vivid colors and sharper image details and contours was a dead giveaway. Not to diss on the work, it’s way cooler than the original image and I’d choose hers instead of Hubbie’s if I had some place left on my walls to hang such awesomeness.

  2. RAF

    Got it also…wasn’t that hard….but boy that is amazing artwork

    You just got excited, Phil, and over sold it….but that’s understandable. :)

  3. Mike

    um…wedding ring? ūüėČ

  4. Mark

    Got it too. The colors are more vibrant in the painting, but what really gave it away were the stars; in the painting, they’re almost always paired, which was odd.

    Didn’t even notice the signature.

    Extremely cool painting though. We’ve all seen artists renditions of planets and stars, but this is a painting of something that actually does exist… and it does it justice.

  5. Chris

    I knew those Hubble images were Photoshopped! She is seriously talented. I have a hard time drawing a circle. Just curious, but how long did that take her?

    Do yourself a favor, and do what I do: surround yourself with smart, talented friends.
    Be careful, Phil, you’re going to get some new stalkers!

  6. Mike

    It’s… nice, but what’s the point having a painting of a photograph?

    Why not use what we have together with computer simulation and the human imagination to create a painting of the nebula from a different angle, or a ‘close-up’.

  7. mike burkhart

    This is a good painting .I have one question are there any planets or other stars orbiting this new star?

  8. Drew M.

    I agree with Mike #6. It is beautiful and I cannot fathom the talent she has, but it’s no better than the original photo.

    I would much rather she show us something we cannot see for ourselves.

  9. ccpetersen

    I’ve loved Lucy’s work for years… we almost got a chance to meet at a launch last year! Check out her other work — she’s seriously good!

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminous artwork. Thanks.

    Jaw-dropping spaceart.

    Gorgeous splendour and such attention to detail. ūüėÄ

  11. AstroLad

    Yes, fantastic work.

    I was pretty sure (but not positive!) I could tell which was which because the diffraction spikes look slightly fuzzy in the painting, and the clumpiness in nebulosity in the HST image looks more like other HST images I’ve seen.

  12. Suzanne

    You want HER to “show you something you cannot see for yourselves” I’LL show you something you can’t see for yourself… some of your comments are ignorant, rude, arrogant and just plain ridiculous. Her art is so fantastic there aren’t enough complimentary words to describe what an outstanding artist she is, although “Messier” did a good job. If you ever do get a change to meet this sweet, funny, beautifully talented artist, you should thank your lucky stars.

  13. Brian

    I figured it out by the placement. The bottom image clearly had had more thought put into the centering of the subject.

    Simply gorgeous.

  14. Bob Fields

    Drew, go to and treat your eyes.

  15. mike

    it isnt hard to tell. I spotted it right away. the one on bottom cleary looks like a drawing, look at the gas clouds, they almost look CG. The one on top is clearly a photo, the bottom one doesnt look like a photo at all.

  16. Anthony Dewar

    I’m shocked that ANYONE could have a problem with such an amazing work of art.

    Seriously people, get real.

    Do you also fault davinci for sketching and painting people, which we can see, instead of unicorns, which we cannot see?

    Being a curmudgeon isn’t the best aspect about someone.

  17. Gary Ansorge

    “Surround yourself with smart, talented people…”

    Careful Phil. You’re starting to sound like Jerry Garcia…

    Cool art…

    Gary 7

  18. Thameron

    “Do yourself a favor, and do what I do: surround yourself with smart, talented friends. They make life far more interesting, and far more fun to live.”

    Didn’t they give this same advice in The Secret?

  19. It looks like an angel with ginormous glowy wings!

  20. Jay29

    I got it because of the alt text on the images. OK so I didn’t really “solve” it, per se, but you should probably take those out if you want to keep people guessing.

  21. RastaBob

    It’s obviously the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Behold his starchy visage!

  22. Matt B.

    Perhaps for people like Mike at #3, you should try to get people’s left hands into the pictures. ūüėÄ

  23. Nigel Depledge

    Suzanne (12) said:

    . . . some of your comments are ignorant, rude, arrogant and just plain ridiculous.

    Whether or not I agree with the comments against which you rail with such vitriol, all you have is a bald assertion. Why should anyone accept what you say as truth merely because you say it?

    You have not even attempted to assemble an argument to support your contention.

    So, think very carefully – who is being ignorant, arrogant and ridiculous?

  24. Suzanne

    Nigel, I just think that any other comment other than something complimentary about such a beautiful likeness is hurtful to such a talented artist. Lucy is an incredibly talented, self-taught artist who pours her soul into her work. I took their negative comments to heart and became angry. I like the way you talk, Nigel, so eloquent. I am not nearly as gifted with words, as you.

  25. Mario John

    I’m a newcomer to Bad Astronomy. I find Phil Plait’s posts to be not only educational but highly entertaining as well. Lucy West’s website led me here.

    I am a good friend of Lucy West. Therefore, I can relate to Suzanne’s feelings on her matter of concern. I’ve read all the comments posted here and find most of them to be quite positive, respectful and good natured. There are a couple however that I disagree with on substance, but commentary is based on one’s opinion, and surely everyone is entitled their own.

    Criticism of another’s work, without considering the artistic merit involved in creating that work, is not uncommon. It was Elbert Hubbard who said: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Artist’s choose to ignore that advice and in doing so their motivation to excel is fueled.

    The Hubble image is wonderful, technically mind blowing, and certainly an inspirational photo. Lucy’s painting of this image shows a reverence for the subject matter as purely as did Leonardo with his Mona Lisa. Gleaning every last detail, over many long hours at the easel during the rendering of an enigmatic subject, inevitably producing a masterpiece

    Comparing Lucy’s painting to a Hubble image is an interesting exercise in perception, but for the artist it’s more about capturing the fleeting essence of the subject at a brief moment in time…And that, Lucy West has done masterfully in creating “The Brush Strokes Of Star Birth.”

    I can see that some here have visited Lucy’s site and are familiar with her vast accomplishments. If you haven’t I sincerely hope you will. You won’t be disappointed, especially if your a SPACE NUT like me.

  26. Musical Lottie

    I knew because the Hubble image is one of my favourites of all the amazing images you’ve posted on your blog, Phil, but Lucy’s rendering of it is astoundingly beautiful as well.


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