A Plutonian Haze by Michael Benson

Voyage our Solar System in a new photography exhibition

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.

Highlights include:

  • 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 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.

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.'

Understanding 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.'

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.'

Ends

Download images: https://nhm.box.com/s/qr6mxyoiuvmo577rl7o0ybpmedjr6zsp (Contact the Press Office for password)

Download video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBNuJuzdCBE (Contact the Press Office for original file)

Credit: NASA JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures by the image, and 'Images courtesy Flowers Gallery' below the article.
 

For further information, please contact the Natural History Museum Press Office

Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / +44 (0)779 960 151

Email: press@nhm.ac.uk  (not for publication)

 

Dates and times:          22 January – 15 May 2016, 10.00 – 17.50

Visitor enquiries:         020 7942 5000

Admission:                   Adult £9.90, child and concession £5.40, family £26.10.

                                    Free for Members, Patrons and children under four.

Nearest tube:                South Kensington

Website:                       www.nhm.ac.uk/otherworlds

Twitter:                        #otherworlds

Notes for editors

  • The Natural History Museum welcomes more than five million visitors a year and is a world-leading science research centre. Through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling the biggest challenges facing the world today. It helps enable food security, eradicate disease and manage resource scarcity. It is studying the diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems to ensure the survival of our planet. www.nhm.ac.uk
  • 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

 

Contact

Weekdays: +44 (0)20 7942 5654
Evenings and weekends: +44 (0)7799 690 151
Email: press@nhm.ac.uk

Press passes

Press passes: If you are reviewing an exhibition or an event we can put aside a press ticket for you in advance.

Gallery staff cannot accept generic media passes, staff passes or business cards.