Probe – Database – Canvas

Michael Benson is an artist. He’s had exhibitions all over the world, including the Smithsonian. Yet, he rarely takes pictures. Instead, Benson brings rough images of planets, and their moons, to life.


Over the past twenty years, he’s sorted through thousands of photos taken by our space probes. Probes often capture light that the human eye can’t see and usually collect at least some of their image data on light that is outside the visual spectrum. A typical camera used on Earth uses a red, green, and blue (RGB) filter to take an image in true color (as humans see color). However, our probes often have a different set of filters, such as blue and orange. Probes also do not have an artistic eye. They are taking pictures for science, not art. So they take thousands of pictures hoping to capture details of scientific importance. Benson sorts through these images to find when a probe captured a beautiful moment such as a moon passing between the probe and the planet, a side profile of a moon’s atmosphere, or a simply stunning head on image. He also using methods such as mosiacs to make make large, flawless final images.


Above: The above image was taken by the Cassini probe on January 18, 2005. The probe has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. The image is of one of Saturn’s moons, called Mimas.



Above: Taken by the Cassini probe on May 8th, 2010, this photo is the moon Rhea, which orbits Saturn.



Above: Taken by Cassini on March 31st, 2005. This image is of Titan and it’s atmosphere. Titan is another of Saturn’s moons and is famous for its dense atmosphere and liquid lakes of hydrocarbon.


converted PNM file

Above: This image is of IO (pronounced I-OH). It is a moon orbiting Jupiter. This image was taken by the Galileo probe in 1999.



Above: The above is an image of Jupiter as one its most famous moon, Europa, passes by. Benson said that the color data was available but he found the black and white stunning.

 Benson’s Website


If you’d like to explore the archives, all of the probe images are online and are considered public domain. However, you have to know how to restore the color if you want to get them out of black and white. To see the raw images taken by Cassini, take a look at Cal-Tech’s site. Just choose the moon you want to see and click search:

The Missing Photo

When doing some research on this, I came across a NASA page with a very special Cassini image. Cassini was launched in 1997…


It then traveled through Space for seven years to reach Saturn. Since 2004 Cassini has been orbiting the planet and taking pictures. Last year it imaged something very special though, and it wasn’t Saturn. Cassini took this picture of Earth from 898,410,414 miles away. The other big dot, near Earth, is our moon.



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