Awesome Kepler-Inspired Artwork

A few weeks ago K2 Project Scientist Jessie Dotson emailed a tweet to me and my Kepler Guest Observer Office colleagues:

Anyone know anything about this artist? (Ran across an announcement of a show he’s having in SF with art based on Kepler results!) -j

The tweet looked intriguing: an art show inspired by Kepler’s discoveries over the last 9 years. I looked at the artist’s portfolio, and my interest grew. I often lament missing the art shows of my NYC-based sister Vanessa, including her ongoing group show Alleviators. Determined to go to this SF-based art opening, I marked the event in my Google Calendar for the day after I get back from a trip to Baltimore. Maybe I’d work from home to ease the commute to SF, or just suffer the 1.7 hour commute.

When the day came around, I stayed late at NASA Ames talking to the interns about Installing Software with conda, and in the process revisiting my evergreen blogpost on the topic. Opening my outdated website reminded me about the existence of this blog, catalyzing the thought that maybe I should update it more. (Later, reflections on my art show experience would remind me that the creative process thrives on a healthy dose of whimsy). The 1.7 hours of commute included majestic cloud vistas overflowing the South San Francisco mountains, a Freakonomics podcast, and maxing out my car audio system on my new favorite album of the year with the windows down. Driving to a promising San Francisco art show on a nice summer day can feel like ditching a lousy colloquium in favor of swing dancing.

I knew I got to Argonaut when I saw the colorful artworks through the large glass windows and characteristic black-sticker-letters-on-white-wall artist statement. I smiled as my eyes got the keywords Kepler, low fuel, and planets. The artist had a great vision, laid out here for the first time. I introduced myself to the artist Owen and soon after we were jovially animating planetary motions with our hands. The pieces were laid out with each one representing different Kepler-discovered exoplanets. Each had geometries, shapes, and patterns informed by the actual planetary data gather with Kepler.

Another piece, “Second Light (K2)”, represented the repurposed Kepler telescope’s second mission to study the ecliptic plane. The stars in this piece momentarily made me think of imagery from Joan Miró, whose stars I used to redraw whenever I had paint markers laying around. My mind wandered to whether these Gildersleeve stars and planet images would work as a tattoo. My attention drifted back to the conversation, which now included a local artist, Becky Margraf (@bargraf on Instagram). We all talked about space, and planets, and I got that rare existential feeling as I sipped my wine from a plastic cup and imagined the entire Earth as a vast art installation exhibit- ephemeral and pointless but imbuing a sense of wonder of implausible things instantiated in front of your own eyes. I compared the listless Kepler spacecraft to the Prada Marfa, took a few posters, and walked down Polk Street to get vegetarian sushi at an interactive science museum on a WWII-era Pier.