Sunday, January 27, 2008

William Hartmann: Scientist, Author and Artist

As you walk through your local book store (now more likely to be Barnes and Noble) and wander down to the isle that has the astronomy and space flight books in it, you will probably find a book written by Dr. William K. Hartmann, PhD.

Bill is the author of "The Grand Tour," "Out of the Cradle," "In the Stream of Stars," "The History of Earth" and several planetary science textbooks. Bill has also published two novels, "Mars Underground" about a Martian colony in the 2030s, and "Cities of Gold" about the Coronado expedition in the American southwest in the 1540s. He is currently working on a sequel to "Mars Underground."

With a doctorate in planetary sciences, Dr. Hartmann is also the author of many scientific publications on the geology of other worlds in our solar system. His first major work was a mapping project with his doctoral advisor, noted planetary scientist, Gerald Kuiper. Drs Hartmann and Kuiper wrote the first scientific paper on lunar impact basins in 1962.

Dr. Hartmann performed a "systematic study of lunar photographs projected on a large white globe, with the resulting "rectification" of geometrical relationships." In layman's terms, Bill used the white globe to bend the photos to reveal the actual shapes of craters and mountains on the Moon's limb (edge). The photograph shown below is an example of rectification.

This photograph taken in 2006 by the Clay Observatory is a modern version of the system that Bill used in 1962. The Clay Observatory, located in Brookline, Massachusetts, used software in place of the "white globe" to rectify a photograph in order to accentuate the image of the geological feature to be studied. The geological feature along the top edge is the Mare Orientale lava plain, surrounded by the huge Orientale multi-ring impact basin.

Hartmann and Kuiper discovered the Orientale impact basin in 1962, ans it's bulls-eye like system of rings played a large part in their research in lunar impact basin. Hartmann discovered that the impact of a large body on the Moon created ripples in the lunar surface. Those "ripples" became the mountain ranges that we see on the lunar surface today. Mare Orientale is a recent (by geological time standards) impact basin as shown by the fact that the mountains and the center basin were still very much intact. Hartmann went further by applying his theory to other mountains and mare on the near side of the Moon. Similar multiple rings were discovered around the Imbrium impact basin, making it the largest impact basin on the near side of the Moon and is used as the basis of dating the Moon's geological timeline.

While Bill is a prolific author and noted scientist, he is also a talented artist using his art to illustrate his theories as well as his books. Bill uses his paintings as illustrations for his astronomy books. The above painting "Lunar Base: Eclipse of the Sun by the Earth" is one such work. Bill did the work as part of the illustrations for the book, "Out of the Cradle." The Earth is eclipsing the Sun over a lunar base located in the Mare Orientale in this futuristic painting. Bill explained to me in a letter that he used some of his own research on impact basins in this painting.

This painting was involved in the "glasnost" period of Soviet-American relations when a group of American and Soviet space artists put on a show in Moscow which then traveled to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC in 1990 and 1991. The painting hung in the entryway to the main exhibit.

In 1974, after years of research, Bill revealed to a conference at Cornell a theory that he co-authored with fellow scientist, Don Davis. The theory was a departure from the currently accepted theories that had been disproved once the geologic samples were returned from the Moon. Bill termed it the "giant impact theory." Bill theorized that a planetesimal approximately the size of Mars struck Earth in a giant glancing impact that created a debris ring that would later accumulate to form the Moon.

The painting shown above is an illustration of that impact. It show the collision approximately twenty-five minutes after the initial impact. The painting can be seen in the latest edition of "The Grand Tour."

In 2005, I had the chance to visit Bill at his art studio in Tucson, AZ. The studio is filled with art from space artists and includes books, models and paintings that range from an original Chesley Bonestell painting to several Russian artists that participated with Bill in the Soviet-American art show in the early 1990s.

The painting on the easel above depicts the Earth and the planetesimal about an hour after the initial impact. He completed it just before I arrived in Arizona.

This painting, which also appears in the recent edition of "The Grand Tour," shows the Earth-Moon system in it's final stage of development during the Great Bombardment Era. The painting shows an Imbrium Basin sized impact occurring on the Moon. The painting shows the Earth in primordial stage of rapid rotation and a Moon with fresh impact sized basins on it's surface. These basins would be pummeled by more and more meteorites and gradually be covered over leaving little trace of these major impacts.

Bill has a keen sense of humor. I asked him for a paintbrush to go with the painting. Instead, Bill gave me his artist's palette. You will note that he also signed it. The palette is art itself and is framed with this series of paintings on the origin of the Moon.

The premise of the book"Out of the Cradle,"a book co-authored by Bill, Ron Miller and Pamela Lee, was what the future of space exploration beyond Earth could become. For the chapter on Mars, Bill painted a future explorer walking in the red sandy soil of Mars. The painting titled, "First into the dunes of Mars," shows an astronaut as he scouts a trail for his party of explorers. Bill was depicting one person's attempt to blaze a trail through some of the largest dune fields in the Solar System.

This painting and the earlier painting of "Lunar Base: The Eclipse of the Sun by the Earth" were also featured in the National Air and Space Museum's exhibit, "Blueprint for Space" in 1992. They were also featured in an chapter authored by Bill in the exhibit's catalog of the same title.

During my trip to Tucson, I also had the chance to visit Bill's office at the Institute of Planetary Sciences. Bill not only is a talented space artist, but a wonderful landscape painter. Titled "Morning in Agua Caliente Wash, Tucson," Bill depicts an early morning view looking northwest of the city towards Santa Catalina Mountains. Bill told me that this painting was from his "Pissarro" period (after Camille Pissarro, the French Impressionist and Post Impressionist painter of the late 1800s).

Bill and I have known each for about six or seven years now and in that time I was able to procure several of his books, like the inscribed edition of "The Grand Tour" and his professional papers. Those works along with his paintings provide a glimpse of a guy that Don Wilhelms, the author of "To a Rocky Moon" and a leading United State Geological Survey (USGS) planetary geologist, called, "just plain smart!"

As a scientist, teacher, painter and author, Bill Hartmann is a true Renaissance man.