News / USA

Photos Reveal Stunning Perspectives of Space

Images taken by manned spacecraft, robotic space probes

Europa (upper right) is one of Jupiter's moons. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (left) is a vast cyclonic storm system about two times the size of Earth.
Europa (upper right) is one of Jupiter's moons. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (left) is a vast cyclonic storm system about two times the size of Earth.



For decades, the U.S. space agency, NASA, has been exploring space not only with manned spacecraft, like the shuttle Atlantis, but with robotic space probes like Mars Odyssey and Cassini, which is currently exploring Saturn.

Equipped with powerful cameras, these robots transmit pictures that provide information about the climate and topography of other planets.

They are also works of art.

Especially in the hands of photographer Michael Benson. "Beyond: Visions of Our Solar System," a new exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. features nearly 150 of Benson's transformed photographs.

Space curator

Some images in "Beyond" are immediately recognizable, like Saturn with its rings, the fiery red, orange and yellow ball of the sun, and the rocky red Martian landscape. Others look like magnified microscopic organisms rather than planetary panoramas.

Io, one of Jupiter's moons, is the most volcanic object known to man, with at least 200 contstantly erupting volcanos.
Io, one of Jupiter's moons, is the most volcanic object known to man, with at least 200 contstantly erupting volcanos.

Benson selected the images from five decades of robotic space probe photography, beginning with the lunar orbiters of the 1960s to probes that are still sending images back to Earth today from Saturn and Mars.

"Almost all of these pictures are taken by spacecraft with telescopes, which either flew past the planet or orbited it or landed on the surface of that planet," says Bensen.

Benson published many of these images years ago, in a book entitled, "Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes."

Seeing his role as that of a curator, he searched through hundreds of thousands of raw frames looking for shots that he considered extraordinary. "I have an eye for abstraction. I like pictures that subvert expectation a little bit."

Works of art

He turned raw images into gallery-ready prints

The images taken by the space probes are often low-contrast, with some digital glitches that appear as black spots.

This image of a global sandstorm on Mars was pieced together from dozens of individual frames taken from the Viking orbiter of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
This image of a global sandstorm on Mars was pieced together from dozens of individual frames taken from the Viking orbiter of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Benson used graphic software to clean them up and filters to correct the color. Several of the photographs in the exhibit were also pieced together like a mosaic or jigsaw puzzle, including one of a global dust storm on Mars.

"It is comprised of about 90 individual frames from the Viking orbiter of the late 70s, early 80s. And I'm particularly proud of it, because it would not exist in anything like this form if I hadn't found the individual frames as I was going through all of these hundreds of thousands," says Benson.

He is also proud of a black-and-white image made up of 90 frames taken by Voyager I, which began photographing Jupiter in 1979.

On the right hand side, Europa, one of the planet's moons, stands out crisp and clear against impressionistic swirling clouds that are reminiscent of Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

"Europa is one of the most enigmatic places in the solar system," he says. "It is an ice covered ocean. Underneath is liquid water, and it is one of the leading candidates for extraterrestrial life."

Not all of the images are extraterrestrial.

An image of the Earth showing the Mediterranean is a favorite of the photographer. (above, Credit: SeaWiFS Project; NASA; Orbimage; Kinetikon Pictures)

"You can see sand blowing into the Mediterranean from the vast desert in North Africa, the Sahara," says Benson. "You can see smoke from burning forests here in the southern Adriatic sea blowing into the Mediterranean."

Virtual voyager

It's not just the power of the image that appeals to Benson, though. It is knowing that, in this part of the world, the idea of exploration took root.

"You know [Homer's] 'Odyssey,' which is the original expression of our yearning to adventure and travel around, okay, in this case, islands, but it's a precursor of space flight I would say."

Although Benson hasn't traveled into space, he says working on the exhibit was the next best thing. "At times I almost felt like I was on one of these voyages."

While "Beyond: Visions of Our Solar System," will run for a year, NASA's space probes will continue to take photos of our celestial neighbors for many years to come.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs