Stellar shots in 'History of Space Photography' (photos)

Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., collaborates with Jet Propulsion Laboratory on stunning cosmic exhibition.

Edward Moyer
1 of 21 JPL/Williamson Gallery

Stellar shots in 'History of Space Photography' show

"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.

2 of 21 Courtesy Oxford Museum of the History of Science

Old-time telescope

Sir John Herschel took this earliest known photograph of a telescope, a 40-inch device owned by his father, Sir William Herschel, in September 1839. Both father and son were famous astronomers. Sir John Herschel named the new medium for creating permanent images of the world using lenses "photography."
3 of 21 Williamson Gallery/JPL

Great comet

David Gill's photograph of the Great Comet of 1882, November 14, 1882, shot from the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.
4 of 21 NASA

Unprecedented view

The first view of the Earth from the moon, photographed by Lunar Orbiter 1. The spacecraft was above a portion of the moon not visible from our planet, searching for a landing spot for the future man-on-the-moon mission. August 23, 1966.
5 of 21 JPL


High-phase-angle Saturn image, from the Cassini mission, September 15, 2006.
6 of 21 JPL

Titanic lakes

Lakes of liquid methane on Saturn's moon Titan, from the Cassini mission, July 22, 2006.
7 of 21 NASA


This representative color photograph was taken of the Sun by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on March 30, 2010.
8 of 21 JPL/Williamson Galley


A photograph of the farthest away and oldest galaxies, including one 12.8 billion light-years away, from Hubble Ultra Deep Field and Spitzer telescopes, 2007.
9 of 21 JPL/Williamson Gallery

A star is unborn

Star's death in the Crab Nebula, as seen in a composite image by Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer space telescopes.
10 of 21 Indian Space Research Organization

Moony minerals

An image of mineral composition of the moon from Moon Mineralogy Mapper, Chandrayaan 1. (Launched October 22, 2008. End of mission August 29, 2009.)
11 of 21 National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)

Dust never sleeps

Dust clouds in the center of Reflection Nebula NGC 1333, shot from the Kitt Peak National Observatory.
12 of 21 NASA

Mountains of Mars

This 360-degree view, called the "McMurdo" panorama, comes from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, 2006.
13 of 21 Defense Meteorological Satellite Program

Goodnight, Earth

The Earth at night, a composite of hundreds of pictures made by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, 2001.
14 of 21 David Malin

Dark cloud

Uncataloged dark cloud in Scorpius, Australian Astronomical Observatory, 2000-2010.
15 of 21 JPL

Lovely Venus

The surface of Venus, from the Magellan mission, orbit August 10, 1990 to October 12, 1994.
16 of 21 NASA

Delta blues (and reds)

On May 24, 2010, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this false-color, high-resolution view of the very tip of the Mississippi River Delta.
17 of 21 NASA

Edifying photo

Ocean eddies off the coast of New Zealand, October 25, 2009, taken by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua Satellite.
18 of 21 NASA


Opposing jets from supermassive black hole in galaxy Centaurus A by Chandra space telescope, 2008.
19 of 21 JPL

North America Nebula

North America Nebula from Spitzer space telescope, combining visible light with infrared. Visible light is shown as blue, and infrared light as green and red. February 10, 2011.
20 of 21 NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Less ice on Iceland

You are looking at glacier melt on Iceland, from 1973 to 2000, in images created by the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
21 of 21 NASA

Apollo gazes Earthward

Earth taken from Apollo 17, 1972.

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