"Good art has the power to change our perspective on things," Stephen Nowlin, director of the Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., recently told NBC4 News in L.A. "Even though we've known for over 400 years that the Earth is not the center of the universe, we still tend to slip back into that kind of 'Earth-centric' thinking."
A show organized by the Williamson Gallery, along with Art Center neighbor and NASA/Caltech affiliate the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shakes us humans out of that mindset, and, simply, dazzles with the beauty of the cosmos.
"The History of Space Photography" features 150 images, selected by guest curator Jay Belloli and several consultants at JPL. Most are from the last 50 years or so, but some date back as far as the 19th century.
The exhibition wrapped up its inaugural showing at Art Center earlier in May, but it's scheduled to begin a tour of science museums in India this November, and will touch down at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in New York next year. (Space fanatics should get started on those travel arrangements now.)
The show divides the images into several categories -- shots of Earth from space, for example; shots of our solar system and its individual planets and star; shots of deep space -- and the pictures range from the first known photo of a telescope (a crude, 1839 shot) to a stunning color image of the Sun created by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory just a year and a half ago. They also include images that track the changing face of the Earth.
"Though we are really trying to push the boundaries of knowledge, it's also a way of showing the beauty that's inherent in the universe," JPL's Randii Wessen said of the research images produced by the Lab and other space-oriented organizations, in a comment to NBC4.
When you see a picture of the Helix Nebula shot from the Spitzer space telescope, it's hard not to be wowed by the grandeur and vastness of space (and of cosmic time). And when you see an image of the Mississippi River Delta captured by NASA's Terra satellite, or a shot of glacier melt in Iceland, it's hard not to reflect on the relative ephemeral nature of the small planet we call home.
The above image shows the Helix Nebula captured by the Spitzer space telescope, February 12, 2007.