Our Little Corner of the Galaxy: Realm of the Superterrestrials
As astronomers search for worlds around other stars in our galaxy, we are discovering types of planets we have never seen before. Among these, one of the most important in our hunt for worlds where life might exist are the "super terrestrial" planets: worlds larger than our own, but smaller than the giant gas and ice worlds such as Neptune or Jupiter. Our own solar system has no such "in between" planet, but we now know these are common in other star systems. Today, we have not answered the question as to whether these strange worlds might offer a home for life, but science artist Chris Butler will take us on an imaginary voyage to a nearby planetary system which boasts no less than seven of superterrestrial planets to explore the mysteries and possibilities of these amazing galactic neighbors.
Chris Butler is an internationally renowned artist and public speaker whose work focuses on science, nature, and maritime subjects. His illustrations have appeared in thousands of publications worldwide, from the Times of London to Scientific American. A graduate of California State University Fullerton's school of Television and Film Production, Chris has also served as a conceptual artist and animator on both educational and entertainment programs. Among his screen credits are the National Geographic IMAX film "Forces of Nature" and Griffith Observatory's "Centered in the Universe," on which he served as art director. Chris has also produced his own educational programming since 1985, including "Our Little Corner of the Galaxy," which will premiere in February, 2007 at selected live venues.
In addition to his work as an artist, Chris is also a performer. His penchant for humor has earned him the nickname "stand up comedian of the scientific world." In 2004, he was honored to be the first (and as of 2006, the only) live planetarium lecturer aboard Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, a venue to which he has returned many times. The world's biggest and most luxurious ocean liner, Queen Mary 2 is the only vessel to feature its own planetarium theater, which utilizes a full-dome video system developed by SkySkan, inc. Its famed predecessor, the original Queen Mary, has also hosted Chris for appearances many times in Long Beach, California. On land, Chris serves as assistant art director for planetarium and exhibit programs for the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and is a regular lecturer at dozens of science education venues across the country.
Several museums, including Griffith Observatory and the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, have commissioned Chris to create exhibits. For the latter, Chris painted a large mural depicting the island's native wildlife. In 2006, Chris began an even bigger (115 feet-long) mural of the now-vanished native landscape of the Los Angeles area, one of the first reconstructions of its kind. Research for this project included creating a detailed computer model and animations of the landscape as it appeared in a natural state. An ardent naturalist, Chris is also working on an illustrated book on this subject.
Chris's unique art and presentation style reflects his diverse experience; he has been the director of a children's science museum, a tour guide on the original Queen Mary, a technical illustrator, a representative for a telescope manufacturer, an amateur astronomer, and a financial analyst on the space shuttle program for Rockwell International.
Chris was the 2006 recipient of the Western Astronomical Association's G. Bruce Blair Medal for service to astronomy, a prestigious award previously bestowed upon astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and famed illustrator Chesley Bonestell. Chris was also recognized in 2002 by having an asteroid named in his honor by the International Astronomical Union (minor planet 13543 Butler).
The son of an engineer who worked on the development of the Apollo lunar spacecraft and the Space Shuttle (Robert E. Butler), Chris grew up with the space program. As a child, he would regularly visit the factory where spacecraft were being designed and built, meeting luminaries such as Werner von Braun and many astronauts. Many years later, Chris returned to work at the same location, providing a deeper personal insight into the technical accomplishments of the space program. Over the years, Chris has had the opportunity to meet and interview most of the astronauts who voyaged to the moon, such as Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Pete Conrad, Jack Schmitt, Dave Scott, Alan Shepard, and John Young.
An avid amateur astronomer, Chris brings direct experience with astronomy to his work. He has served as a vice-president and board member of the Orange County Astronomers (the largest organization of its kind in the world), and is a life member of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. Chris's maritime credentials include the Vice-presidency and board membership with the Steamship Historical Society of America's Southern California Chapter.
Chris resides in Buena Park, California, with his wife Tracy and daughter Diana.
"What's Up?" in this month will be presented by John Garrett