Trailblazer Intern Hongyu Cui Explains Her Artistic Process to Visualize Ice in the Moon’s Shadows

30 July 2020

How do you build without a blueprint? For planetary missions that are literally out of this world, art and visuals are necessary for the conception and communication of foreign environments and complex science phenomena that have never been seen before. A critical challenge in developing visuals for science communication is balancing scientific accuracy with accessibility and meaning for the average viewer.

Lunar Trailblazer intern and artist Hongyu Cui was brought onto the team to help visualize water ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon. These are areas in the craters of the lunar poles that never receive direct sunlight. This task was particularly challenging, because no one has ever seen water ice in these obscured areas.

Instead, the presence of water ice has been detected by remote measurements including ultraviolet light, infrared light, or neutrons invisible to the naked eye, which are then interpreted by trained planetary scientists.

However, the physical representation of these interpreted measurements is not so easily communicated. As an interaction design student at Pasadena City College, Cui’s experience in rendering two- and three-dimensional graphics prepared her to translate the idea of water ice on the Moon into visuals that communicate this idea both to other scientists and a more general audience. The systematic development process requires creative expression of never-before-seen phenomena, technical accuracy, composition of a visually coherent and appealing scene, and a healthy amount of trial and error.

In this special feature, Cui breaks down her development of her water ice in PSR graphic, from concept to execution. Many challenges arose in the creative process, including research on what scientists know about how water ice is positioned within a crater, copyright usage for preexisting images, developing a rendering of a photorealistic crater from scratch, and application of textures to the model.

By Jasper Miura
Jasper Miura is a Research Technician Associate and Lunar Trailblazer Science Manager at Caltech.

By Jasper Miura