Space travel with Michael Carroll

Posted 5/11/09

“Long before there were people to witness them, before oceans washed across the face of our planet Earth, before life took hold here, there were …

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Space travel with Michael Carroll


“Long before there were people to witness them, before oceans washed across the face of our planet Earth, before life took hold here, there were volcanoes. They brought glowing energy and materials from deep within the earth, enriching the environment and sculpting the landscape. Much of the air we breathe today comes from the atmospheric building blocks of these early eruptions…”

— Chapter I, “Alien Volcanoes.”

Littleton space artist Michael Carroll says he has always loved science, but hated math. Solution? He got a degree in graphic arts from CSU and has studied astronomy, science, NASA and other photographs that show the surfaces of planets and moons and much more. He was first introduced to volcanoes at age 11 during a trip to Hawaii with his parents, he writes.

He is internationally recognized for his skill in depicting places that are far, far away, enabling those of us who are earthbound to imagine how it might look out there. One of his paintings flew on the Russian Mir and another is at the bottom of the ocean in Russia’s ill-fated Mars 96 spacecraft.

Carroll and his wife Caroline have written and illustrated a dozen science books for children.

On May 5, he spoke to a thoroughly engaged audience of adults and kids about his latest project and related book, “Alien Volcanoes,” at Bemis Library. He conducted the audience on a time trip starting from the 79 AD. eruption of Vesuvius, as reported by Pliny the Younger who described the smoke funnel as shaped like a Mediterranean pine-an umbrella-like form, to a view of the earth’s newest volcano, Mt. Redoubt in Alaska. “Ever since that (Vesuvius), we have been trying to figure out what to do about volcanoes,” Carroll says.

“We live in an exciting time… There are new images every day from the two Mars Rovers.”

Carroll illustrated his talk with a combination of images, which are included in the book: his paintings, some earlier art by others, photos of today’s sites such as Vesuvius, Mt. St. Helen's and Pele, plus others showing the surfaces of moons and planets, some filled with volcanoes and lava flows.

A better understanding of the planetary surfaces comes from visits to the far corners of our planet earth with its varied landscapes, he says.

His co-author is Dr. Rosaly M. C. Lopez, a Brazilian who is lead scientist for geophysics and planetary geosciences at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and investigation scientist for the Titan Radar Mapper on the Cassini Spacecraft. She has visited many of the earth’s active volcanoes and studied those on planets and moons in our solar system, including work on NASA’s Galileo mission to study Jupiter’s moon Io. Lopez is author of ”The Volcano Adventure Guide,” the first travel guidebook to volcanoes.

Regarding a photo of a big red spot on Jupiter, thought to be a volcano, he says that planet is a big ball of gas, with no solid surface to house a volcano. There are shield volcanoes, which are “relaxed, subdued, shallow and fairly predictable. Then there are strato volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helen’s, which blew its top violently in 1980.

Carroll showed an 1874 painting of Mt. St. Helen’s with smoke coming from the side, which people should have noted since that is how it blew more than 100 years later. Perhaps lives and property might have been saved.

Other images included dark rivers of lava on our moon; Mercury, which has a landscape resembling the moon; Soviet landing images of Venus; Olympus Mons on Mars, which is as large as most of the state of New Mexico; Gallileo’s telescope which revealed the four moons of Jupiter to him (he got in serious political trouble for saying so); icy Europa; undersea volcanoes; Cassini/Huygens images from Saturn; Neptune’s moon Triton and more…

The artist gets his colors from images when possible, begins each work with an acrylic painting, which he scans into the computer for additional refinement with Photoshop.

The colorful results combine with readable text in “Alien Volcanoes,” published at $30 by Johns Hopkins University Press— or probably at your neighborhood library.


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