If you’re like me, you enjoy perspective-altering experiences that help you see life in a different way. Photography is capable of delivering these revelatory moments, particularly when a picture shows us something we’ve never seen, or when it brings us a fresh view of something we thought we knew. Otherworlds: Visions of Our Solar System, a new book by artist Michael Benson and planetary geologist Dr. Joseph Michalski, published by Abrams Books, does both of these things. Relying on data collected by robots that have explored our solar system over the past four decades, Benson has carefully created color landscape images that offer readers a new look at Earth and its nearest neighbors.
Through a complicated system of data translation, Benson has pieced together 100 photographs that closely approximate the color the human eye would see. (In a funny aside about the need to composite some of the images, Benson notes that his iPhone makes higher resolution photos than a spacecraft launched 19 years ago.) One image shows the sun glinting off the Pacific Ocean from the perspective of the International Space Station; another, based on images captured in 1978 from the Viking Orbiter, pictures a Martian canyon system nearly as long as the United States is wide. A photograph of Jupiter’s largest moon, Io, the “most volcanic object in the solar system,” shows two of the continuous eruptions that spew from Io’s more than 400 active volcanoes.
Michalski’s texts and captions describe each image, adding to the sense of wonder and scale. In his introduction, Benson argues that the “visual legacy of planetary exploration” may be one of this epoch’s lasting monuments. If that turns out to be the case, it will likely signal a shift in our collective, anthropocentric point of view. As Michalski notes in his foreword, “The photographic perspective on immense, distant alien planets and moons toys with the human mind.” —CONOR RISCH
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