Leaving home

Stockholm-based computer animator Erik Wernquist has made a spectacular short film that imagines what life would be like if we could freely travel to the other moons and planets in our solar system. These stills from the film are as engaging as the movie itself and really give you a chance to appreciate how much work went into the project.

In creating the movie, Wernquist relied upon NASA photographs, maps and other data to try to make the depictions as realistic as possible. In this scene, titled "Leaving Home," Wernquist used this photo of Earth taken from the International Space Station on July 21, 2003 for inspiration.

Related article: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Shrinking Red Spot

This shot imagines a spacecraft falling into orbit around Jupiter, with its Great Red Spot visible from the large windows. The spot, a raging storm, is Jupiter's most iconic feature, but it seems to be slowly fizzling out, which means by the time we do get to zip around our solar system, it might be extinguished altogether.

At least we'll always have Wernquist's rendering of it. For this shot, he used "a mosaic of photos from NASA's Voyager 1 flyby in 1979, assembled and processed by Björn Jonsson (as seen here)."

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Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Cryo-geysers

Here, animator Erik Wernquist's Earth craft floats through the cryo-geysers off the southern pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

"These geysers (discovered by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005) are formed along cracks in the moon's icy surface and shoot powerful jets of -- amongst other stuff -- water vapor and ice particles into space," he says. "Some of the plumes reach heights of several hundreds of kilometers, and while most of it falls back as 'snow' on the surface, some particles are shot into space and become part of the famous rings of the parent planet of Saturn. The geysers are one of many hints that there are large bodies of liquid water under the surface of the moon, making Enceladus a prime target for the search for extraterrestrial life in the solar system."

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Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Ring surfing

Someday, instead of surfing the waves of the Pacific, intrepid travelers might be able to surf above the rings of Saturn as seen here. While the rings might look like gaseous stripes from afar, they're actually made up of myriad particles.

These range from "smaller than a grain of sand to something like a basketball," says Erik Wernquist, maker of the animated film imagining what life would be like if we could move freely around our solar system.  "Some are large as a small bus. All of them [are] made from clear water ice, constantly shattering and rebounding with each other, making the rings highly reflective in sunlight and so clearly visible to us."

Wernquist says he mostly relied on his imagination to create this scene, as there are no photos from within Saturn’s rings. However, he does mention that he was inspired by this 2004 photo taken by Cassini.

Related article: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Elevator to Mars

This still from the movie imagines a space elevator to the Martian surface. Space elevators have been discussed for years as a way of moving cargo -- and passengers -- on and off the surface of planets, including Earth.

"Although this concept is indeed a viable idea," animator Erik Wernquist says, "it is also highly controversial when it comes to building one on Earth, and this may indeed turn out to be impossible due to the incredibly high demands on the strength of the cable in relation to its weight. On smaller, lighter worlds, however, like the moon or on Mars, the prospects for a future space elevator are somewhat more promising. As Mars' diameter is about half of the Earth's, the elevator cable wouldn't have to be as long to reach geostationary orbit, and due to the lighter gravitational pull it wouldn't suffer as much stress from its weight."

In creating this shot, Wenquist says he used "a tremendously high-resolution assembly of NASA orbital photographs made by John Van Vliet for the virtual space simulator Celestia."

Wernquist also mentions research showing that the best place to attach a space elevator to Mars would be at the Pavonis Mons volcano because its height and location at the equator would cut down on the amount of cable needed. But here, he chose to attach his fictional space elevator to the Terra Cimmeria highlands because the volcano’s location "did not look as neat."

Related article: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Walking on Europa

"This scene shows a group of people hiking across the icy plains of Jupiter's moon Europa. Jupiter itself as well as another moon -- Io -- is seen beyond the horizon," says animator Erik Wernquist. "The scene takes place on the night side of Europa so the landscape is lit entirely by reflected sunlight off Jupiter (and to a small extent off Io). The shot is designed to look as if it would have been filmed from a moving vehicle and with a very long lens so that the bulk of Jupiter fills the entire field of view, like a huge wall in the background."

Weinquist adds that it's the long-range/long-lens component of the imagined shot that makes Jupiter seem so massive. In reality, he says, Jupiter would take up about 20 degrees of the sky.

Europa is of particular interest to scientists as it's theorized that a world of potentially life-sustaining water exists beneath its icy surface.

Weinquist got his inspiration for the scene from this January 1, 2001 shot from Cassini.

Related article: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Base jump on Miranda

On Uranus’ small moon Miranda lies a massive cliff called Verona Rupes, which, astronomers believe, is the largest in the Solar System, measuring at least 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) -- and maybe as much as 10 kilometers -- high.

“This extreme height combined with Miranda's low gravity (0,018g) would make for a spectacular base-jump,” says Wernquist. “After taking the leap from the top edge you could fall for at least 12 minutes and, with the help of a small rocket to break your fall toward the bottom, end up landing safely on your feet. Miranda's close orbit around giant Uranus also makes a magnificent huge cyan ball in the sky.”

Wernquist borrowed from his homeworld to make this shot. The foreground cliffs come from a composite of photos taken from Pulpit Rock in Norway. To flesh out the rest of the landscape, he used this photo taken by NASA’s Voyager 2 craft in 1986.

See related story: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system.

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

Ringshine

"This is one of the most awesome views I can imagine experiencing in the solar system," Erik Wernquist says, "floating in a light breeze above Saturn's cloud tops at night, looking up at the glorious swaths of the rings in the sky, and witnessing how they wash the cloudscape with the light they reflect from the sun. The ringshine."

Because the atmospheric pressures in the upper layer of clouds on the planet are between 0.5 and two times that of Earth’s sea level, Wernquist says, a human could conceivably float in this layer without a pressurized space suit -- but not without an insulating layer as temperatures here range between -170 and -110 degrees Celsius.

"So, I have taken some liberties with realism here," Wernquist says, "but I wanted to show a person without a spacesuit for this final shot, and just hope the future might bring along some incredibly insulating material to make it possible to take a stroll on a balcony beneath the sky of Saturn wearing just a jacket and a face mask."

In putting together this fantastical image, Wernquist says he used a healthy dose of imagination as, obviously, there are no photos from Saturn’s surface to rely upon. He did however get inspiration from artist Björn Jonsson's renderings of what Saturn's skies may look like.

Related article: Gorgeous video imagines life lived throughout our solar system

Photo by: Erik Wernquist

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