Eclipse from Moon(Chal).jpg
Long ago ~ some four billion years ago in fact – the Earth and all of the other planets and moons in our Solar System were battered by a constant stream of bodies of all sizes, as shown here. The results can be seen in the craters seen on our Moon and most solid bodies; most of those on Earth have been eradicated by erosion, tectonic action, or are under the oceans. (From Hardy's Atlas of the Solar System, 1981)
Primeval Earth 2
Long ago – some four billion years ago in fact – the Earth and all of the other planets and moons in our Solar System were battered by a constant stream of bodies of all sizes, as shown here. The results can be seen in the craters seen on our Moon and most solid bodies; most of those on Earth have been eradicated by erosion, tectonic action, or are under the oceans. However, the Asteroid Belts and meteoroids are still left over today. (Landscape version of the portrait image above.)
Jupiter & Asteroids
A graphic view of Jupiter and the Asteroid Belts that separate it from Mars and the inner planets. It would of course be impossible to see this visually, as the asteroids are so small and widely-spaced, and the planets so distant!
Other bodies, known as Apollo asteroids, move inwards, past the oribit of Mars, and even pass quite close to Earth. Occasionally a large one strikes Earth, causing widespread destruction. . .
We are on an Apollo asteroid passing only 100,000km from the Earth, which is eclipsing the Sun, its atmosphere forming a 'ring of fire' (the sunset effect). While such a asteroid might pass us by, there is every chance that it will be drawn by gravity. . . (Digital, from Futures.)
Moment of Extinction
Tyrannosaurus Rex snarls defiance, to no avail, as a massive fireball enters Earth's atmosphere, accompanied by smaller particles that have broken off. Within seconds there will be a massive fireball and an expanding shockwave and heat blast, vaporising everything in their path.
It is not a matter of 'if' but 'when' a large asteroid will strike Earth, as did the one that may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That impact is believed to have been in what is now Yucatan; this painting shows a modern-day strike near the same area. (NB: This painting is almost square, so can be used in portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) format. Please state which you prefer when ordering a print.)
If an asteroid strikes Earth near a centre of population, as here, the consequences will be horrific. It is night, and we see not only the lights of cities but fires started by the impact, or by the panicked populace. (Digital, from Futures.)
Asteroid on Yucatan
The amount of ejecta coming out of the vaporised crater at Chicxulubwas sufficient to set all the forests of the world on fire when it reentered the atmosphere. Scientists say that the immense amount of ejecta coming from the vaporized 112 mile diameter crater (which blasted through the crust into the mantle) was not only thrown in all directions, but also thrown so high in all directions above the Earth that as Earth rotated, it came down everywhere across the surface of the planet. (Digital)
One favoured defence from an asteroid, at present, is to detonate a nuclear device, which could easily be launched with current technology – not to attempt to destroy it, which could merely shatter it into many fragments, each of which could do damage, but to deflect it into a harmless orbit, away from Earth (Digital).
Although asteroids are a deadly threat to Earth, they could also be our salvation. Many asteroids contain massive amounts of nickel and iron, ready to be mined when our own resources run low. And some have suggested even more adventurous ways of using them, in the more distant future. . .
. . . Some writers and scientists have proposed that asteroids could be hollowed out and used as 'arks' or 'generation starships', only the descendants of those who set out eventually arriving at their destination. This is believed to be the first time an artist depicted 'lens flare' in a painting; it is of course common now with the advent of Photoshop! (Gouache, from New Challenge of the Stars, 1978.)
The only asteroid known to pass inside Earth's orbit, past Venus's and Mercury's and 'graze' the Sun so that it glows red-hot is Icarus. 200 days later, at aphelion (its furthest point) it is beyond Mars and frozen. (Acrylics and impasto with texture paste, with transparent glazes.)
Some asteroids, their orbits perhaps perturbed by Jupiter, stray far from the main belts. This is certainly the case with Hidalgo, which approaches Jupiter quite closely (closer than Earth is to the Sun), as seen here.
Oort Cloud Objects
Beyond even the Kuiper Belt is the Oort Cloud, a spherical shell of icy objects which is the source of most of the comets that periodically encroach on our part of the Solar System. They are 1000 times as far from the Sun as Pluto. (Digital, from The Sky at Night.)
Binary Kuiper Object
Some Kuiper Belt Objects have moons; others are better described as 'binary objects' as they are of similar size, rotating around a common centre of gravity. Here is an example. (Digital, from The Sky at Night.)
NH at Quaoar.jpg
Pluto having been demoted to 'dwarf planet', other members of this class began to be discovered. All beyond to the 'Kuiper Belt', consisting of mainly icy bodies. This is an impression of Quaoar, discovered in 2002, shown here being visited by the New Horizons probe, which reached Pluto in July 2015 and goes on to visit other bodies.
Great Comet of 1843
Moving on from asteroids to comets. This is an oil painting, made in 1968 but in the style of the period, of the 'Great Comet of 1843' in the constellation of Orion (no, I wasn't around to see it!). The tail of Halley's Comet stretched 140 degrees in 1910. The Victorian era seems to have been the heyday of comets, but a big one could still appear one day. . .
A view of the head of a comet from beyond the Earth and Moon. Comets are normally 1 to 10 km in diameter. Two colours are visible in the tail: yellowish dust (particles) and bluish plasma. The plasma contains carbon monoxide ions which fluoresce blue in the Sun's ultra-violet light. (Cover for Sky & Telescope magazine.)
When Comets Were Comets….
One of the the comets that was expected to be spectacular in modern times was Hyukatake (See ULYSSES image below) – indeed, it was dubbed 'The Great Comet of 1996'. Sadly it did not quite live up to expectations, but this was painted in anticipation. . .
The Leonid meteor shower, which occurs in November each year. In this shot of Stonehenge we are looking roughly east, with Leo somewhat south-east.. The radiant is inside the Sickle of Leo, and is shown at the peak of the shower. Ursa Major is at top left. The Leonids have a distinctly greenish tint. Two sporadic meteors – probably stray Taurids – come in from the west. As with comets (same origin), these showers seem to become sparser, especially in the UK. . . (Cover, Astronomy Now, 1999.
In April 2000 the ULYSSES probe passed through the longest comet tail ever known – that of Comet Hyakutake. (Digital; courtesy ESA/ESTEC.)
Hartley 2 painting
Peanut-shaped Comet Hartley 2 was visited late in 2010 by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft during its EPOXI mission. The comet is extremely active, rotating in several directions and jetting water and frozen carbon dioxide, creating a 'snowstorm'. (Painted impasto – very thickly, with a strong texture – with a palette knife.) Comet 67P visited by Rosetta proved to be very similar.
Comet Probe. The surface looks bright only because of the glare of sunlght; it is actually very dark. Also, we are seeing an area which has been disturbed by evaporation and the outgassing of volatiles, revealing ice. In the foreground are dark rocks perched on pinnacles of ice which they have shielded from sunlight. (Digital, from Futures.)
Iceteroids for Mars
One method that has been suggested for bringing more water to Mars in order to 'terraform' it is to bring in ice asteroids, or 'iceteroids' from the Belts between Mars and Jupiter; or even from Saturn's rings. Here we see several approaching; they would of course need to be carefully controlled and directed, so that they land in the right place!
More than a million asteroids, over 200 of them 100km or more in diameter (but irregular in shape) form belts between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; though some stray inward, closer to the Sun and so closer to the Earth.
Hardy is a member of Spaceguard UK, an organisation which is dedicated to informing the public about the very real possibility that the Earth will – as it has been millions of times in the past – be hit by an asteroid or comet large enough to destroy a major city.
This would have a massive impact on our planet, creating a kind of 'nuclear winter'. Despite the fictitious portrayals of this scenario in many books (notably by Larry Niven and Arthur C. Clarke) and in films such as Deep Impact and Armageddon, this is not science fiction.
The only question is not 'whether' but 'when?' will this happen, and… 'Can we do anything about it?'