Category: Space

An icy moon orbits a frozen world. You can decide which is which.

mandelbulb 3d fractal landscape example

An Icy Moon in Orbit Around a Frozen Planet

The mountains in the image above are merely a rendered 3D fractal. If you are not familiar with fractals they are never-ending patterns, infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. In other words, as you enlarge a fractal you will see the same, or very similar pattern emerge repeatedly ad infinitum as you enlarge the original fractal. This is called expanding symmetry or evolving symmetry. You are already familiar with fractal patterns, the natural world is full of them. Take a tree, as a simple example. The pattern of the trunk and branches and secondary branches is repeated as you move to the scale of branches, secondary branches and twigs. Another example would be the tiny rivulets of rain or melting snow water running onto successively larger flows until they are a large river emptying into a sea. Physical laws dictate that flowing water moves in similar ways at all scales. The same thing is true for coastlines at any scale; similar patterns reappear over and over and over as you look at ever smaller scales. As a result it is practically impossible to actually measure the exact length of a coastline.

The math behind fractals is very complicated, and I don’t understand it anywhere well enough to explain it. Even the experts are not in complete agreement as to how they should be defines. Even Benoit Mandelbrot, who is generally credited with developing the modern idea of self-similarity, fractals, in nature, once characterized them as, “beautiful, damn hard, increasingly useful. That’s fractals.” If you want to impress people at a party with how smart you are repeat Mandelbrot’s 1982 definition: “A fractal is by definition a set for which the Hausdorff-Bescovitch dimension strictly exceeds the topological dimension.”

So, enough with the heavy-duty science. You can find much more about the science of fractals on the Internet. I generally think of fractals as coming in 2D and 3D varieties. I do some work with both types, examples of which have appeared on this blog. 2D fractals are generally backgrounds or some other element; with the 3D fractals often being the mountainous terrain generated by various software packages.

Abstract, 2D fractals can be generated by a computer calculating a simple equation over and over. Here are a few examples, all made with the Apophysis fractal generator:

multicolor apophysis fractal


swirling, multi-colored apophysis fractal

Gravitational Blueshift

orange and green apophysis fractal with a starry background

Quantum Entanglement

multi-colored apophysis fractal

Structural Iridescence

Then there are 3D fractals. I used a free software package called Mandelbulb to create the examples in this post.

This is a very simple one in which the 3D nature is evident:

simple mandelbulb 3d cube fractal

Simple 3D Cube-Style Fractal

Of course, 3D fractals can be much more involved:

blue mandelbulb 3d fractal

A Blue Hatch, A Red Atmosphere

red-toned mandelbulb 3d fractal

Alien War Helmet

And one I like very much – a habitat on a rocky moon or asteroid. The fractal reminded me of the cartoon-like atmosphere of some of the stories by the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris, The Cyberiad, Tales of Pirx the Pilot, and many others. I added a few elements to complete the scene including a spaceship Pirx would have been proud to fly.

modified mandelbulb 3d fractal in memory of stanislaw lem

Stanislaw Lem Station

Science and art! Cool, eh? You can do this too.


Orbital Tuber

I have met people who do not believe Idaho is a real place. Others know it it is somewhere in flyover territory, but can not place it any better – “Isn’t that somewhere near Nebraska?” Mostly, people just think it is a backward place. Not true! Idaho has a space program and placed a satellite in orbit.

Spudnik - 1 Orbital Tuber

Spudnik – 1

The scientists and engineers at the Idaho Space Authority dubbed it the Idaho Geosynchronous Agriculture and Forest Fire Observation Tuber, or IGAFFOT for short. IGAFFOT does not exactly roll off the tongue so the governor sponsored a satellite naming contest among the state’s elementary school students. There were a number of suggestion including Tater Tot, but almost 99 percent of the students suggested Spudnik; and so it was.

During a television interview the director of the Idaho Space Authority explained that potatoes make wonderful observation platforms as they can be mass-produced locally and generally have several eyes. In addition, when the orbit decays the tuber is re-entry baked by friction with the atmosphere. All you need if you find one of these satellites after it comes down is butter, salt and pepper; with maybe a bit of sour cream.

I was able to obtain an example of the cloth mission patch:

Spudnik -1 Cloth Mission Patch

Spudnik -1 Cloth Mission Patch

Martian Mammoth

According to Elton John, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact it’s cold as hell …”

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a picture of what they say is an elephant, but looks more like a young mammoth to me. My artistic input was merely to give the original black and white photo a reddish tint for atmosphere.

It’s the low gravity whut lets ’em grow so big.

Elephant on Mars Sculpted by Lava Flow Staff
09 April 2012

NASA photo of a surface formation on Mars resembling an elephant.

Martian Mammoth

This observation highlights Martian terrain that looks like an elephant. Actually, this image covers the margin of a lava flow in Elysium Planitia, the youngest flood-lava province on Mars. Flood lavas cover extensive areas, and were once thought to be emplaced extremely rapidly, like a flood of water. Image released April 4, 2012.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The dried flood of lava over the surface of Mars has created the spitting image of the eye and trunk of an elephant.

The curve of the animal’s forehead and the dent of an ear also appear in a new photo taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“This is a good example of the phenomena ‘pareidolia,’ where we see things (such as animals) that aren’t really there,” University of Arizona planetary geologist Alfred McEwen wrote in an update posted on the university’s HiRISE website.

The Mars elephant illusion photo shows a region of the Red Planet called the Elysium Planitia, which is the youngest flood-lava province on Mars.

Scientists aren’t sure if the lava flows on Mars were deposited quickly, or over a longer time period, as is the case on Earth, where most lava floods were put in place over years to decades.

“This is probably true for much of the lava on Mars as well,” McEwen wrote. “An elephant can walk away from the slowly advancing flow front. However, there is also evidence for much more rapidly flowing lava on Mars, a true flood of lava. In this instance, maybe this elephant couldn’t run away fast enough.”

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Red Planet since 2006, was launched in 2005. The orbiter, currently in an extended phase of its mission, has transmitted more data to Earth than all other interplanetary missions combined, NASA officials have said.

A couple of other interesting photos from Mars:

Earth seen from Mars

Planet Earth as seen from the Martian surface

Earth seen from Mars

The Earth is the small dot near the center of the photograph.

Sunrise on Mars

Sunrise as seen from the surface of Mars.

Sunrise on Mars

And now for something completely different.

I don’t know if you’ve seen them; those pictures taken by NASA’s Cassini probe of the geysers on Saturn’s sixth largest moon Eneceladus. If not, look them up on the Internet.

Enceladus is one of several moons of the outer planets which have water oceans under their surface ice. The scientific community believes life may exist in Enceladus’ ocean; it contains salts and organic compounds.

Anyway, I’ve got some friends who have been there (They are not exactly from around here); they brought me some photos – here’s one:

Artist's conception of life on Saturn's moon Enceladus

Under the Ice of Enceladus

Click on image for full-size view.

Lot’s of living things there though my friends tell me the terms “plant” and “animal” don’t exactly work to describe them.

Though it is heated by gravitational stressing and radioactive decay the water is rather frigid – that’s my excuse for including it on this blog.

Sometimes the simplest fractals work really well.