Art: Pluto's features predicted in 1979.

Pluto’s Face Was Predicted in 1979 ... and It”s a Beaut.

Pluto’s Face Was Predicted in 1979 ... and It”s a Beaut.

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 15 2015 7:00 AM

Life Imitates Art: Pluto’s Face Predicted in 1979

dondixon_pluto_1979

I talk a lot about how entwined art and science are, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen as good an example as this: Space Artist Don Dixon predicted what Pluto looked like back in 1979 … and he nailed it.

Pluto art
Pluto today (left, via New Horizons) and from a painting done in 1979 (right). Wow. Click to enhadesenate.

Photo by Don Dixon, used by permission; Pluto image by NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Are you kidding me? That’s the cover he did for the book Out of Darkness: The Planet Pluto, by Clyde Tombaugh and Sir Patrick Moore. Amazing.

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And this is more than coincidence! As he writes on his Cosmographica site, the overall look of Pluto is probably modified by ices on its surface sublimating (turning directly into gas) during local summer and redepositing elsewhere on the surface where it’s colder. That means craters and lowlands should have different brightnesses … just as we’ve now seen with New Horizons.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

And the color he used may be pretty close, but that’s not coincidence either; we’ve known for some time that methane on the surface would get hit by ultraviolet light from the Sun and turn into more complex organic compounds called tholins, which are reddish. The colors we’re actually seeing so far are more orangey than red, but close enough.

So yeah, he was doing more than guessing. And that’s all well and good, but still. Geez. The similarity is really incredible.

I’m tellin’ ya: art and science. The science informed Dixon’s art, and now his art has hopefully helped inform you. That’s how this stuff works.

Tip o' the easel to my old friend Robert Hurt.