Kraken Mare

This scene overlooks a part of Kraken Mare, a lake made of liquid methane surrounded by mountains of water ice on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. The topographic data use to create the landscape was produced from radar data captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, but the low resolution of available data results in a blocky appearance. The radar map appears black where it reflects off very smooth surfaces such as liquid, showing us the outline of Titan’s lakes. Clouds hang above the landscape, but below the yellow and blue haze layers of the atmosphere.

This was a fun piece to make! I’ve had the topography data ready to go for a while but just never got around to finishing it. We don’t have very high resolution data for Titan, so the landscape has a very blocky appearance. On the upside, it was fairly quick to cut, relative to some of my other pieces.

To make up for the landscape’s video game style appearance, I wanted to do something special with the atmosphere. Titan has a thick atmosphere and experiences something like Earth’s hydrological cycle- only, it rains liquid methane instead of water. So first I made the clouds. It was my husband’s clever idea to use dryer sheets since they have a wispy textured appearance. Normally with the method I use, you can’t create layers that have “islands.” That was going to be a problem for making realistic looking clouds, so I spent the time to manually glue the clouds onto a clear transparency sheet. It was time consuming, but worth it. I put a spacer between the clouds and the landscape to give the piece more depth.

Above the clouds there is a layer of yellow haze particles called tholins. These particles can be caught in rain and washed onto the surface as well. When you look at the limb of the moon, it shifts to a bright blue color due to the way that the light scatters through the smaller haze particles at the top of the atmosphere. For the blue layers, I bought some iridescent blue-green powder that is made to mix with paint medium. It was too hard to paint a nice looking gradient that faded from clear to darker blue, so I made three separate layers on transparency sheets. I mixed some blue powder with mod podge and put a thin coat on each, such that when stacked it would give the appearance of darkening blue towards the corner.

The yellow haze layer was the hardest part. I had bought some yellow plastic film- the kind you used in party decorations or to make color filters in class as a kid. I really didn’t like the quality of the yellow though. I also tried yellow watercolor on a clear transparency. This seemed really neat at first, because it doesn’t soak into the plastic like it does paper, causing the paint particles to clump into something you could call haze particles. The problem is, when it dried on the plastic it just looked kinda crappy- it looked dirty, sometimes moldy, I hated it. I eventually ran to the fabric store and got some shear fabrics to try. Originally, I’d wanted the yellow haze to cover the entire piece, just like it covers the entire planet and makes it hard to see the surface. But it made it too hard to see the topography after all. In the end, I decided to add an adiditional partial layer like the blue layers and I glued the fabric to the plastic. This gave it a yellow, diffuse kind of quality which I liked. You couldn’t see that well through it, but since it didn’t cover the entire landscape that was ok. All in all, I love how it turned out. The gradient from yellow to blue I think is skewed towards more blue than is realistic, but aesthetically the way it came out looks fantastic.