Space Art by Lynette Cook

Lynette’s illustration of the newly discovered “Goldilocks” planetAstronomical artist Lynette Cook works in the world of science news deadlines. Lynette’s illustration of the newly discovered “Goldilocks” planet was made on an especially tight deadline. It ended up being featured in a number of news venues, including the NBC Nightly News (West Coast edition), AP, NPR, Reuters, the NY Times, USA Today, space.com, astronomy.com, Astronomy Picture of the Day, Yahoo, and Seed Magazine online.

Lynette writes:  "I was traveling with my mother for a couple of weeks and arrived home to find a request from astronomer Steve Vogt, one of the discoverers, asking if I could do a rush job. I was back in the nick of time to say ‘Yes!’ So I buried my face in the computer for a few days, working quickly from rough through the final stage, communicating back and forth with Dr. Vogt several times each day. The press conference was held at the National Science Foundation on Wednesday, September 29, and the news story and image began showing up on the web and on television broadcasts that evening. One never knows what will happen when a press release like this goes out. Over the years I have been involved with several and remember that some received little attention and others really excited the media and the public to the point of 'going viral.'

Lynette’s illustration of the newly discovered “Goldilocks” planetThe discovery, otherwise known as Gliese 581 g or 'Zarmina's World,' after Vogt's wife, is exciting in that it is the first very nearby planet (20 light years away) that could be habitable. (Some other, previous discoveries made the same claim but were later deemed unsuitable for life.) Zarmina's World has a 37-day orbit around a red dwarf star in the middle of the star's habitable zone, where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist. Gliese 581 g is three to four times Earth's mass and about 1.3 times Earth's diameter, which means it could retain an atmosphere. Though one side of the planet always faces its star, creating circular 'eco-zones' on the lit side like rings on a target, atmospheric models suggest that there would be polar caps. Also predicted is a large ice sheet like tundra covering much of the shadow side. 

It is unknown at this time whether water exists on this planet, and it is likely to remain a mystery for the foreseeable future. Scientists can study the atmospheres of exoplanets that, from our vantage point on Earth, transit or cross the face of their stars. Unfortunately, Gliese 581 g does not transit. But this discovery compels us onward and is a new milestone in our quest to find a sister world: a place similar to the Earth where oceans glisten with the rays of their sun and creatures both similar to and different from us gaze at the stars above and wonder what is out there."

Lynette lives in Daly City, California, a hop and a skip from San Francisco. When not creating new wonders of the cosmos she is teaching art classes or working on paintings for a Spring 2011 exhibit at Mississippi University for Women. You can see more of Lynette's art on her website at www.lynettecook.com

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