Imagine being able to stand on Earth and look at the sky at any time, millions of years in the past or future — or being able to stand at any point in the galaxy and look at the heavens as they really are.
Erik Anderson, an Ashland man with an extreme fascination for stars, has published a book, "Vistas of Many Worlds," that allows you to do just that.
Using computer-generated imagery and a vast, accurate database of stars, Anderson, 44, has dreamed up fantastical scenarios that fill his book with dozens of ethereal pictures.
One shows the hominid "Lucy" looking up from Africa 3.2 million years ago at a very different Orion, while another depicts a newly discovered planet orbiting its binary suns, as seen from a hypothetical moon of the planet. The stars in the stunning picture of the ringed planet are 200 light years away, so no one has ever seen the array from nearby, but the location, brightness and direction of the stars are accurate, says Anderson.
Anderson has mounted many of the astro-pics on vinyl-coated aluminum sheeting and is showing them at Adelante! Gallery, 88 N. Main St., Ashland. His exhibit opens tonight during First Friday's art walk with a reception and book signing from 5 to 8 p.m. The wall art prints are $550 each and his hardbound, 125-page book is $29.95. A complete star map published a few years ago is $16.99 and has been selling well, he says.
The books are self-published and will be published as iBooks through the Apple Store later this year.
"I call it astronomy art," says Anderson, a self-taught astronomer. "I've done the research over many years and I have the database of 100,000 stars and their motions through space, so I'm able to project any viewpoint within several thousand light years and go forward and back in time."
We may think of the starry skies as static, but to Anderson, they're very much in motion, if you give them enough time.
His astro-art shows Orion with most of the same stars it has today, as they were formed from the same molecular cloud, although the two "shoulder stars," Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, have come hurtling in from deep space in recent eons, he says, and will someday be gone.
His book shows how the Big Dipper will one day open up so the dipper becomes the handle and the handle forms a new dipper.
Such motion is dependent on how far away stars are, he notes. Closer ones move faster and more distant ones take seemingly forever to budge, he says, adding, "It's really fun to see how things shift. It shows scenes that have rarely been shown and it should be something amateur astronomers will relish."
A Renaissance man who quit high school to educate himself on his own terms, Anderson, in collaboration with mathematician Charles Francis, Ph.D, in Hastings England, worked up a new model of the Milky Way galaxy that postulates all the stars travel on the galaxy's two spiral arms — and the arms rotate in the opposite direction from the stars.
"If you know the shape of the motion of the stars, you can deduce the shape of the galaxy," he says. "It's been difficult (for science to see) because we are immersed in the galaxy."
Astronomers debate the shape of the galaxy and whether it has two or three arms, he says, but "each astronomer is focused on his specialty and none are looking at the big picture."
When the Gaia Mission is launched in 2013 to map the brightness, color and motion of 1 billion stars in our galaxy, it will "resolve any lingering confusion about the basic structure of the galaxy, how many spiral arms it has, how they are configured, where exactly the sun resides," thus proving or disproving their theory, Anderson says.
Anderson and Francis have written five papers on their hypothesis, some published in the Royal Astronomical Society proceedings. Anderson presented his paper on Galactic Spiral Structure in 2010 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Southern Oregon University, where "it was well received, but there weren't any astronomers there."
The main thing, he adds, is that "we got it in the literature. We established the claim. If I were a professor, it would have been a lot easier and gotten publicity. I didn't follow the traditional course, but that's what led me to these untraditional ideas."
The abstract of their theory is at Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Volume 465, Number 2111, pages 3425-3446 (2009arXiv0901.3503F).
The abstract concludes that "spiral galaxies evolve toward grand design two-armed spirals. We infer from the velocity distributions that the Milky Way evolved into this form about 9 billion years ago."
Anderson bemoans the lack of attention paid to research that's not from traditional universities or institutes, but smiles and says, "Who knew Einstein in 1905, when he was a patent clerk and worked out the General Theory of Relativity? But when it was proved in 1920, he became a superstar. Maybe that could happen to us."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.