Why are we so intrigued by the universe? Perhaps because it puts our conflicts on earth momentarily out of sight. A fascination with the potential of life beyond earth has gripped philosophers, scientists, and curious minds since the universe first came into our awareness. Yet, as our scientific knowledge expands, it can feel like the biggest mysteries surrounding the universe only continue to deepen.
The year 2019 marks 50 years since the Apollo 11 Mission by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); when humans first set foot on the moon. To this day, our interest in the achievement is far from over. Half a century on, theories abound that the event was a hoax, secretly staged by NASA as an egotistical response to geopolitical tensions with the Soviet Union at the time. Yet, regardless of whether NASA’s most famous lunar experiment actually occurred, the event monumentally changed the way we understand our solar system—returning new information about everything from magnetic fields and lunar geology, to weather forecasting and GPS technologies. When we think of NASA, we think of aeronautical research, astronaut suits, and bobbing around in gravity-free chambers. However, the contested government agency also acts as an academic source of information, and its database of images has been recently made available to the public for free.
In NASA’s image library, one can search for ‘Saturn’ and the site will return over 4000 results—compelling images taken over the course of decades, from satellite observations and space photographers. It’s a captivating examination, one that takes the viewer on an artistic journey more akin to an abstract painting than astrological expedition. The curated images below are chosen from this same library, existing as a visual study of space exploration. The images highlight the different surfaces, colors, and textures of planets with rich detail, reminding us of our immensely small existence within the context of a vast and ever-expanding universe.