Michael Benson at the Natural History Museum and Flowers Gallery
Image above: Typhoon over Bay of Bengal (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) The immense vortex of tropical Cyclone 03B slams into India’s east coast with wind speeds approaching 120 kilometres an hour. Below, the teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is relatively cloud free. Photograph. Terra, 15 December 2003. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, Lucian Plesea, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team/NASA GSFC/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
Embark on a stunning journey through space with Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System, a new photographic exhibition at the Natural History Museum, running from 22 January until 15 May 2016.The 77 composite images represent a joining together of art and science. Artist, curator and writer Michael Benson painstakingly processes data from NASA and ESA missions to assemble the photographs for display.
Image above: Dark side of the rings (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) This spectacular view looks down on Saturn’s northern regions, with its pole still in the darkness of the northern hemisphere winter. The rings cast a band of shadow across the gas giant world. Mosaic composite photograph. Cassini, 20 January 2007. Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
• A Plutonian haze - When NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015, it uncovered a dwarf planet of immense scientific complexity. In a world-first, a colourised image of Pluto Pluto will be on public display, revealing the mysteries of our System’s best known dwarf planet.
• Enceladus vents water into space – In 2009 NASA’s Cassini mission captured images of Saturn’s sixth largest moon Enceladus spraying water into space from its southern polar region.
• A Warming Comet - The oddly twin-lobed Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko vents gas and dust, captured by ESA’s Rosetta probe flyby in last July. Outflows and jets of cometary material can be seen as the comet heats up.
Image above: A Warming Comet (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) The oddly twin-lobed Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko vents gas and dust about a month before perihelion – the closest point to the Sun along its orbit. Outflows and jets of cometary material can be seen as the comet heats up. Rosetta, 7 July, 2015. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM–CC BY-SA IGO 3.0/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
Museum researchers have partnered with Benson to bring additional science background to the images. An audio commentary complements the striking visuals with insights into the work of leading Museum scientists such as Dr Joe Michalski, who is investigating the geological processes that shaped Mars to better understand the early life of our own planet.
Michael Benson comments, “In the past 60 years, an audacious, utterly consequential story has unfolded. Combining rocket science with the innate human drive to explore, after millennia of speculation about the planets, the first expeditions to the solar system’s far-flung worlds have taken place. Through the agency of a small squadron of increasingly sophisticated robotic spacecraft, we’ve seen Earth dwindle to the size of a pearl, and then a pixel, as we voyaged far beyond any place ever directly visited by human beings.”
Image above: Crescent Jupiter and Ganymede (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede, seen here on the right, is the ninth largest object in the solar system and is bigger than the planet Mercury. Like Europa, Ganymede’s surface is composed of water ice, and is thought to have a sub-surface ocean. Mosaic composite photograph. Cassini, 10 January, 2001. Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers GalleryUnderstanding how these landscapes were formed is a part of the Museum’s planetary science research, using our celestial neighbours to understand the early formation of Earth, how the solar system first began and what life is like on other planets. Researchers refer to the Museum’s world-leading collection of 5000 meteorites in their work, and contribute to remote-sensing research with colleagues at NASA and ESA, including the current Rosetta mission.
“We are delighted to be working in partnership with Michael Benson to bring these images to London coinciding with Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the International Space Station,” says Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum. “These images reframe how we see our Solar System, created from the very same data that Museum scientists use to understand the 4.5 billion year history of our planet and life on it.”
Image above: Moonlight on the Adriatic (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) In this luminous view of southern Europe, the Adriatic Sea with its many islands gleams in reflected moonlight. In the centre, the Italian peninsula extends into the Mediterranean Sea. To the lower right, Milan’s road network blazes. South is up. Mosaic composite photograph. ISS 023 crew, 29 April 2010. Credit: NASA JSC/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
The exhibition also features a soundscape of original music by Brian Eno.
Eno comments, “Space is silent. It's a vacuum. In fact we can't really experience space directly at all: even those few humans who've been out there have done so inside precarious cocoons. So we've become used to translating our feelings and understandings about space into metaphors, mental playgrounds where we're allowed to imagine how it could be. That process of imagining is unanchored to experience, unconfined by any demand other than it be in some way true to our feelings. Making music about space, then, is sheer fantasy, or perhaps sheer metaphor.”
Image above: A Plutonian Haze (courtesy of Flowers Gallery) When NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015, a sense of astonishment was experienced by the mission’s scientists. Pluto contained a far more variegated surface than anyone had dared to hope for. And soon after the closest approach, it became clear that when back-lit by the Sun, the dwarf planet’s tenuous atmosphere was as blue as the skies of Earth. Mosiac composite photograph. New Horizons, 14 July, 2015 Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
Michael Benson's work focuses on the intersection of art and science. Benson takes raw data from planetary science archives and processes it to create prints of landscapes currently beyond direct human experience. A photographer, writer and curator, he has recently staged a series of large-scale shows of planetary landscape photography, in the United States and internationally, most notably from 2010-2011 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. He is also an award-winning filmmaker. Benson’s last book was Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time (Abrams, 2014). He is a regular contributor to major newspapers such as The New York Times, a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities, and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Bits and Atoms at the MIT Media Lab. www.michael-benson.net
Flowers Gallery will present new works from this series in an exhibition at Flowers Gallery on Cork Street, London,W1S 3LZ, from 9th November - 3rd December 2016.