Winner of Sir Arthur Clarke Award for 'Best Written Presentation', 2005

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Alien Earth 1
I suspect that some of the landscapes of Planet Earth may be more 'alien', and are certainly more varied, than those of any other planet, at least in our Solar System.

For instance, in the computer-generated movies which we see on TV, flying us over the landscape of Mars or Venus, the vertical scale is vastly exaggerated, making the mountains, volcanoes and valleys look much more dramatic than they really are.

Certainly the USA's Grand Canyon could be lost in Mars's Valles Marineris ~ but would even that really look so spectacular, standing on its rim? Some of its tributaries maybe, but it is so wide (and the martian horizon is so close) that often we wouldn't even see the other side. As for life, what could be more alien than some of the creatures in our deep oceans -- especially around those black smokers?

This is not to say that we don't need to go there -- of course we do! -- but in the meantime space artists, in particular, can find plenty of inspiration right here at home. Or a few thousand, not million, miles away. . .

The IAAA holds workshops every year or two. To date it has visited Death Valley, Arches and Canyonlands, Utah, USA, Iceland, Hawaii, Tenerife, KSC, Yellowstone and various other locations and observatories. The images that follow record some of the workshops which I have attended and immensly enjoyed, together with some of the paintings which have resulted.


At the IAAA's Iceland Workshop in 1988 (the first that I attended, and also the first to include non-North American participants -- which included a dozen then-Soviet artists, meeting their Western counterparts on neutral ground) I had the honour to meet Alexei Leonov, who performed the first, 10-minute 'spacewalk' in March 1965, and also commanded the Soyuz which docked with Apollo in July 1975. He also works with Andrei Sokolov, Russia's leading space artist.


Above is Alexei at Namaskard, one of Iceland's fascinating thermal areas. Behind him is a bubbling mud-pot. Another thermal area which we visited was Geysir, from which all the world's geysers get their name, and we were lucky enough to see it erupt, which it does rarely nowadays, as well as its smaller but more regular companion, Strokkur.

Geysir, Iceland. I used my own photos as reference when, after seeing the fantastic images of Neptune's moon Triton coming in from the Voyager fly-by of 1989, from the Planetary Society's viewing auditorium in Pasadena, I painted (below) the geysers which revealed themselves by dark streaks on its pink nitrogen- and methane-ice surface.

This image appeared on the cover of Sky and Telescope, Popular Astronomy, and elsewhere. The subterranean (or sub-Tritonian) caves are probably caused by pockets of nitrogen gas, heated by infra-red radiation.



The lava dome under the volcano Krafla had risen by half a metre when our party arrived in the area. Another half-metre, and an eruption was very likely. Naturally, we all hoped it happened while we were there! But it didn't, and only Mark Hamel (no, not Luke Skywalker) and I were foolhardy (?) enough to climb up to the crater. It was well worth it. This is me: "Yeee-ha!".

I still remember that steam-filled crater, with the smell of sulphur filling our nostrils...

The thermal or solfatara area Leihrnjukur, inside the crater of Mt Krafla. How could any space artist resist such an alien place? Apart from the presence of water, parts of Io must look like this.

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