Chromophores

This piece shows cloud layers on Jupiter cut from sheets of brown-orange vellum paper. Vellum paper is semi-transparent, so the more layers of paper the darker the area seems to be. This piece is a work in progress, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I learned about Jupiter’s universal chromophore. The planet actually only has one color, created by a haze particle in its clouds called a chromophore. Different concentrations of the chromophore give it the range of oranges and browns we see. Isn’t that wild?? It’s a relatively new discovery. So the different layers of paper stack to show concentrations of the chromophore in the atmosphere. (It’s common in spacecraft images to see green and blue colors added into the mix, but in my discussions with experts I learned that those are areas of low cloud density where the color is a byproduct of the scattering of light in the atmosphere rather than reflecting the composition of the clouds themselves.)

I started with a Juno image of the Great Red Spot, as processed by @_TheSeaning on twitter. It took me a while to figure out how to process it not by separating colors, but rather by how far from Red each pixel in the image was. This way the layers will show “amount of redness” by location. It’s like a grayscale, but instead of scaling to black and white it’s scaled to the color of the Great Red Spot.

Even with a lot of manual processing, the contours don’t come out very smoothly with this image processing technique. Combine that with vellum paper being very soft and turns out cutting this piece is a giant pain. The contours don’t come out as smooth as I’d like, but that’s the way art goes sometimes.

Overall I think it looks pretty cool, but as suspected it does take quite a bit of backlight to actually see the layers. I could reduce the number, but there’s already only 6. With less direct light it appears much more hazy and homogeneous. Perhaps it’s an interesting feature of the piece that reflects some reality– we do often have to enhance our images to see variation in cloud color. But it doesn’t make for much to look at.

I think I’ll experiment with different backlighting solutions to see what might make this piece pop. Whatever the solution, this work is likely to have limited ideal viewing time, whether its hanging in a window or plugged into a wall. But I love one thing I love about making these pieces is you never know exactly how they’ll turn out. I’m excited to see what it becomes!

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