Tag Archives: Nasa

The Cosmos In Living Color: Michael Benson’s Interstellar Imagery

The startling majesty – and deceptive complexity – of Michael Benson’s space art can be traced back through a process he dubs “true color.” A multimedia artist, Benson is a man utterly fascinated with outer space (he points to 2001: A Space Odyssey as an inspiration for his interstellar works — works that so impressed 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke that the sci-fi titan agreed to write the foreword to one of Benson’s books), and he has fixed his talents on creating visions that break free of the confines of Earth, enabling viewers to behold the unseen wonders of the universe.

To encounter a Benson landscape is to be in awe of not only how he sees the universe, but also the ways in which he composes the never-ending celestial ballet. From the spidery volcanic fractures that scar the surface of Venus to the time-lapse flight path of a stray asteroid, the dizzying close-ups of the swirling “red spot” of Jupiter, the x-ray-filtered view of the sun’s surface and the rippling red dunes of Mars, Benson is a visual stylist with a gift for framing and focus. Apart from cutting-edge high-definition renderings of our solar system’s most familiar objects, he also routinely converts extra-terrestrial terrain into thrilling, abstract landscapes that seem positioned somewhere between the scientific and the avant-garde.

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

Some of his greatest achievements skew towards the hyper realistic; I have been following Benson’s work for years and still the image I remember most is a massive, intricately-detailed view of the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons (slide 13 in the gallery above). Looming large in a print that renders the Io surface in a yellow-brownish hue, delineating the moon’s different terrains, Benson’s color scheme accentuates the dark volcanic calderas that dot the satellite’s surface. The final result is sharp, meticulous and magnificent. At first glimpse it’s a simple planetary object, but the closer your eye scans the terrain, the more you realize that Benson has somehow taken this imagery captured 400 million miles away and given us a front-row seat to consider the turbulent topography of this alien orb. Benson’s visions demand more than a single look; the longer one spends with his vast landscapes, considering the scale and scope, the more they facilitate a state of meditation.

Behind every one of these images, however, lies an intricate and involved photo editing process (watch the video of Benson’s method above). Benson typically begins each work by filtering through hundreds or thousands of raw images from space, made available to the public by NASA and the European Space Agency – photographs that have been taken by unmanned space probes flying throughout the solar system, rovers on Mars or humans aboard the International Space Station. Many of these photos come back to Earth as black and white composites, or as images created with only a few active color filters. Benson then sorts through the images in a hunt for something surprising, revealing or noteworthy. Once he’s found a subject of interest, he starts stitching together individual snapshots to create larger landscapes, and filtering these landscapes through his own color corrections to create a spectrum that approximates how these interstellar vistas would appear to the human eye.

In his latest published photo collection Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, now available from Abrams, Benson details the fine points of his processing techniques:

“The process of creating full-color images from black-and-white raw frames—and mosaic composites in which many such images are stitched together—can be quite complicated,” Benson writes. “In order for a full-color image to be created, the spacecraft needs to have taken at minimum two, but preferably three, individual photographs of a given subject, with each exposed through a different filter… ideally, those filters are red, green, and blue, in which case a composite color image can usually be created without too much trouble. But in practice, such spacecraft as the Cassini Orbiter or the Mars Exploration Rovers … have many different filters, which they use to record wavelengths of light well outside of the relatively narrow red, green and blue (RGB) zone of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.”

Benson goes on to explain that he will often start working with images that are missing an essential filter — that ultraviolet and infrared filters have been used instead of color filters, meaning the composite image is lacking necessary information.

It is here where Benson has carved out an area of expertise, filling in that missing image information to add shape, scale and color to the planetary bodies he hopes to explore. The resulting visuals, as you can see above, are pristine and powerful glimpses of the furthest reaches of our solar system (and, in some of Benson’s other works, the very edges of the universe). With the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and its subsequent photographs of what appears to be Martian riverbeds, the world was once again reminded of the power of a single image transmitted back to Earth across millions of miles of open space. It’s a dizzying thing, to behold an alien world, and scanning through the portfolio of Michael Benson — a true “space odyssey” — is to experience this rush of discovery again and again.

Michael Benson’s new book Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, is now available from Abrams. Also featured above are images from Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2008). Images from Planetfall will be on display at New York’s Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in December 2012. To see more of Benson’s work, visit his web site.

Steven James Snyder is an Assistant Managing Editor at TIME.com.

Live From Mars: Interactive 360 Panorama from the Curiosity Rover

Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Taking pictures on another world has never been just point and click. For decades, unmanned probes from Earth have been venturing to distant planets, moons and other bodies—and for just as many decades, the images they have sent home have been composed and transmitted in a decidedly painstaking way. That is especially so in the case of the 360-degree panorama NASA is now releasing of the Curiosity rover’s landing site in Mars’s Gale Crater.

Even on Earth, you have to be selective when you photograph a landscape. After all, no matter how glorious your picture of one part of the Grand Canyon is, it by definition leaves out countless other, equally glorious parts. The only way to capture the whole sweep of the place is to take many small images and bit by bit, piece them all together. That’s hard enough when the camera is in your hand. Now imagine doing it when all of your hardware is 154 million miles away and the data has to be streamed back you in a comparative trickle that, even moving at light speed, takes 17 minutes to get here.

(See more: Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover)

But NASA did just that to produce its full pirouette picture of the Marscape that surrounds Curiosity. The panorama was built from 30 smaller images shot by the rover’s Navcams—or navigation cameras—on Aug. 18 and Aug. 7. Each picture has a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 1,024 pixels, and all of them have been combined in such a way that the seams connecting them disappear. The lighter colored strip at the top right of the image is the rim of Gale Crater—chosen as the landing site because it was once a deep sea. Also visible is the peak of nearby Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 mi. (5.5 km) into the rust-red sky. The portions of the picture in the Martian sky that appear gray are parts of the mosaic that have not yet been added, but will be the next time NASA updates the image.

As their name implies, the Navcams are used mostly for reconnaissance purposes—scouting out where the rover will drive and mapping the best route to get there. They were thus not designed with beauty in mind—and that means they shoot only in black and white. The cameras mounted atop Curiosity’s mast capture the full range of desert-like colors that define the brutally beautiful Gale Crater environment. The entire suite of on-board cameras will have a lot of work to do in the two years ahead—and every picture they take will be one worth saving. Once the rover starts rolling, after all, it will never be staying in any one place for long.

(Related: Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space)

Pictures of the Week: July 13 – July 20

Fotografia . Comcast Cable Florida .

From America’s worst drought in 50 years and fierce fighting in Syria to the start of Ramadan, TIMEs photo department presents the best images of the week.

Exclusive from NASA: The New Tallest Building in New York City, From Above

Most of us weren’t drifting over Manhattan at an altitude of 243 mi. (390 km) on March 11 at 8:09 AM, but Anatoly Ivanishin and the other crewmembers of the International Space Station were. Ivanishin had a camera with a 1,200 mm lens in his hand and he snapped this image of what he saw below. It was a Sunday morning, so the streets were quiet—though that kind of detail would not have been discernible from orbit. The skies were clear, however, and that was what allowed such a detailed, almost pointillist portrait to be captured. The picture is taken with north at the left, and as you get your bearings, other landmarks become clear. Central Park is the long grassy rectangle in the middle of Manhattan. The waterway at the bottom is, of course, the Hudson River, with Hoboken and the other towns of eastern New Jersey lining the shore. The LaGuardia Airport runways are visible at the top of the image near the left side.

Most poignant—if least conspicuous—are the sawtooth shadows extending from the southwest edge of Manhattan into the Hudson. The longest tooth of them all is cast by the new World Trade tower, which on April 30, the same day NASA released the image to TIME, once again became the tallest building in New York. The Empire State Building, which regained the crown on Sept. 11, 2001, now trails the new building—which stands at 1,271 ft. (387 m)—by 21 ft. (6.4 m). The World Trade tower will get much taller (and the shadow will get much longer) still, when it finally tops out at 1,776 ft. (541 m) sometime next year. The decade-old wound in lower Manhattan has not completely closed, but it’s close—and even from space, that healing shows.

Correction: an earlier version of this post identified the astronaut who took this photograph as Don Pettit.

Pictures of the Week: April 20 — April 27

From the first round of voting in the French presidential elections and the crisis between Sudan and South Sudan to the continuing eruption of Mt. Etna and a plane crash in Pakistan, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Pictures of the Week: April 13 – April 20

From centennial celebrations of the birth of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea and attacks in Afghanistan to the moving of the space shuttle Discovery and Nepalese New Year, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Pictures of the Week: April 13 – April 20

From centennial celebrations of the birth of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea and attacks in Afghanistan to the moving of the space shuttle Discovery and Nepalese New Year, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

Pictures of the Week: April 6 — April 13

From North Korea’s rocket Unha-3 and the Trayvon Martin case to wildfires in the New York City metropolitan area and the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.