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How Artists Help NASA Scientists Visualize Worlds They Don’t Actually See

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UNSPECIFIED: In this NASA digital illustration handout released on February 22, 2017, an artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. Because this planet is thought to be tidally locked to its star, meaning the same face of the planet is always pointed at the star, there would be a region called the terminator that perpetually divides day and night. If the night side is icy, the day side might give way to liquid water in the area where sufficient starlight hits the surface. One of the unusual features of TRAPPIST-1 planets is how close they are to each other -- so close that other planets could be visible in the sky from the surface of each one. In this view, the planets in the sky correspond to TRAPPIST1e (top left crescent), d (middle crescent) and c (bright dot to the lower right of the crescents). TRAPPIST-1e would appear about the same size as the moon and TRAPPIST1-c is on the far side of the star. The star itself, an ultra-cool dwarf, would appear about three times larger than our own sun does in Earth's skies. The system has been revealed through observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope as well as other ground-based observatories, and the ground-based TRAPPIST telescope for which it was named after. (Photo digital Illustration by NASA/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA digital illustration handout of the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. (Photo digital Illustration by NASA/NASA via Getty Images)


Pictured above, there’s a landscape from the Trappist-1 system, which has seven Earth-like worlds orbiting a dwarf star.

This is not a photo, however, as it is not possible to take those for the time being. All NASA has are blips on a data readout.

Yet when concept artists get involved, scientists can guide them to create something beautiful, evocative, and still surprisingly plausible. The result is that the general public can get more excited about distant discoveries. (After all, NASA doesn’t come cheap.)

They even help scientists discuss their own work and explain the value of understanding worlds beyond ours.

To learn more about the process of creating NASA’s remarkable visualizations in Wired, click here.