Michael Benson’s photo safari through the solar system

While a mission to Mars, let alone the rest of the solar system, is still in the realm of science fiction, recent drone fly-bys have given us a better idea of what our galactic neighborhood looks like – provided someone were to actually compile the information into evocative pictures.

Fortunately, artist/scientist Michael Benson has taken on that task, attempting to capture the public’s imagination with his digital reproductions, painstakingly created by compositing and optimizing raw data from both NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency).

The 77 images depict distant sights in the solar system like never before, with an original ambient soundscape by Brian Eno setting the cosmic mood. See Martian landscapes, Jupiter and it’s moon Ganymede (pictured), a recent picture of Pluto made during NASA’s New Horizons drone visit in 2015 or the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it vents particles into space. The extraterrestrial pictures are contrasted with bizarrely beautiful images from closer to home such as a typhoon over the Bay of Bengal or the Adriatic by moonlight.

Creator Michael Benson is also a noted film maker (the award-winning documentary Predictions of Fire; collaborating with Terence Malick for the outer space scenes in the Palme d’or-winning The Tree of Life), writer, journalist and visiting fellow at MIT; he first started collecting outer space images off the internet in the mid-1990s. Eventually, his reprocessed composite pictures were displayed in ever-growing exhibitions to critical acclaim, most notably in the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2007–2008 and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. in 2010–2011.

Manned space exploration may have went on hiatus since the Apollo missions, but until we can see the great rings of Saturn for ourselves, Benson’s artistic composites are the next best thing.


Otherworlds: Visions of Our Solar System

Through Sep 18, Naturhistorisches Museum