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Word Art: Mercury [Astronomy Series]

About a month into my art career, I got it in my head that I would enter the art show at Chattacon, a little science fiction convention that I normally go to each year.  I downloaded and read the rules and realized that I’d need something to fit the proper themes of the show.

“I know!” I said to myself, “I’ll do a Word Art piece for each of the planetary symbols!”

Never was the timeworn phrase “easier said than done” more appropriate.  Granted, it did simplify things enormously–I wasn’t forced to rack my brain to come up with ideas and the titles were already in place before I even embarked on writing the words.  (Normally, titles come at the end rather than the beginning, which can make things tricky at times.)  The wonders of Google image search found me a picture of the planetary symbols from a NASA website and a little tinkering with GIMP rendered them the appropriate size so I could trace them to fit the 3″ x 5″ spaces I’d marked out on 5″ x 7″ sheets of paper to fit in a matching set of dollar store frames.

Then I had to actually write the words.  I checked a book out of the library to work from, because I wanted the solidity of paper reference, though I gathered the bulk of the information from the wonders of Wikipedia.  This is far safer than it may seem, since the Internet is not lacking for people passionate about science who will eagerly fact-check and verify nearly every line of such entries.  (As someone wryly observed, the thing about Wikipedia is that it works well in practice but it’s a disaster in theory.)

I wanted the words to be factual, though they were still subject to the mad poetical filter that the words tend to go through when they run from my head to the page, and it is entirely possible that there are some scientific inaccuracies contained within.  As the series progressed, I got better at gathering the information that was of the most interest to me and putting it to use filling in the spaces to define the symbol on the page.

I started with Mercury.



The closest planet to the sun. Possesses a magnetic field of 1% of the Earth’s.

This faint magnetosphere allows for a faint sort of atmosphere, as ions from the solar wind are drawn to the surface, only to be lost again over time.

It rotates so slowly that a day lasts two years.

The ancient Greeks named it twice–it was known as Apollo when visible in the morning and known as Hermes when visible at night.

As time passed and more was observed, they came to realize it was the same body.

Heraclides of Greece first suggested that the body orbited the sun.

Observations of this orbit in the nineteenth century noticed there was a shift in the orbit at the point of perehelion advancing ever so slightly over time.

Astronomers set to work and made their calculations according to the Law of Universal Gravitation according to Sir Isaac Newton.

However, the measurement and prediction had a gap between the two figures.

43 seconds of arc was the difference between what should have been and what was.

Urbain LeVerrier of France held that an as-yet-unseen planet, which he named Vulcan, was the source of the deviation.

In the end, the application of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity accounted for momentum as well as mass and the 43-second difference fit in with those numbers.

From certain points on the surface, were observers able to stand there the sun would appear to rise and then to regress, and set once more.

There are shadowed spaces on the poles deep in craters where the sun never reaches at all.

The axial tilt is so small as to approach zero, so these spaces remain in darkness.

There may be water in those darkened areas, sheets of polar ice in place that remain unmelted.

On other parts of the surface, such ice would be vapor in an instant.

The lack of atmospheric gases with sufficient density leaves the surface exposed so that any bit of space debris can strike unimpeded.

So it is that this planet bears a resemblance to our Moon. (It is only slightly larger than our Moon as well.)

The craters are not quite the same, though, as the gravity is stronger so that the dust from the impact settles more quickly.

Several of these have been mapped, measured and named.

The Caloris Basin lies beneath the peak of the sun every second time the planet reaches the point of perehelion.

Others are named for writers, composers and artists of our times past.

The best known is probably Beethoven, but craters here now bear the names of Rembrandt, Matisse, Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Stravinsky.

At the antipode of the Caloris Basin lies an area known as The Weird Terrain.

There are also smooth plains where lava once flowed, as there are on our Moon.

Our efforts to look more closely at the surface have been a bit precarious, as any probe that is sent into that part of the solar system must struggle against the pull of the Sun’s gravity.

We have sent two such probes as these words are inscribed, and more are to follow.

There is still much to be learned, or perhaps confirmed.

The core seems to be liquid iron and the source of Mercury’s magnetism, but we hope to peer more closely and to be sure of this.

For a time, they thought that the planet presented the same face to the sun at all times, as our Moon shows the Earth the same face.

As it turned out, this was because the only times it could be clearly seen from our surface with the instruments at hand were when those faces turned to the sun.

As the instruments were refined, the details became clearer and the slow rotation of the planet was known to science.

We only know the core to be iron not since we have sampled it directly, but as we have observed from the distance and calculated its density and made our conclusions that it is how such a body would behave were that body made of that much iron.

(Will our future include mining companies to brave the heat and retreive [sic] the metal? No doubt such possibilities have already been speculated upon in some space opera novel somewhere in the stacks.)

As these words are written, there are three hypotheses to explain the density of the planet.

One proposes that the original crust and mantle were stripped away by the impact of a passing planetesimal.

Another suggests that the planet was formed from the solar nebula and that the surface rock was vaporized as our Sun contracted.

A third hypothesis suggests that the solar nebula prevented lighter particles from joining the material accreting to form the planet.

More shall be known.

It didn’t sell.  None of them did, perhaps because originals generally don’t sell well at that particular art show (or so I was told as I was checking my work out at the end of the weekend.)  It’s also possible I priced it a bit too high–I’ve since dropped my pricing to five dollars per square inch, having been taught by this that ten per square inch may be asking a bit much for an as-yet-unproven artist.

I did get many positive responses, though, which was encouraging.  I’m considering doing a series of the astrological symbols at some point, though I’ll need to get twelve matching frames together for that, so it may take a while.

Prints of this work are available here.

The original is not for sale.

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