Otherworlds: visions of our solar system

We're not the only ones getting ready to look at more mind-blowing images of space. Entries for Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016 open next month, but first Poppy Cooper from the Natural History Museum talks about their Otherworlds exhibition.

Otherworlds, our exhibition of space photography by artist Michael Benson – opens at the Natural History Museum on 22 January 2016. Poppy Cooper, Interpretation Developer for the exhibition, explores how space photography brings out the best of art and science.
Europa, An Ice Covered Moon
Europa, An Ice Covered Moon, NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures
Prior to the space age, our understanding of extra-terrestrial landscapes and geological processes was closer to science fiction than to fact. Since the late 1950s, hundreds of robotic spacecraft launched into deep space have returned data to Earth – data that show science fact to be far more amazing than fiction 
We now know that the solar system is just one of many planetary systems in our galaxy. We know that the planets and moons in our solar system contain volcanoes the size of Britain, vast subsurface oceans larger than anything on Earth, and violent raging storms that would dwarf our planet. Much of this is thanks to the images of those bodies returned by space missions.
Europa and the Great Red Spot
Europa and the Great Red Spot, NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures.

Out of this world

Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System, a collaboration between the Natural History Museum and artist Michael Benson, is an exciting fine art exhibition that illustrates the enduring and vital relationship between science and art. 
Launching on 22 January 2016, the 77 high-resolution images on display not only reveal the magnificent beauty of our solar system but also demonstrate the astounding scientific and technological leaps we have taken in space exploration over the past six decades.
Michael Benson creates his stunning images with the same data that NASA and ESA use for their research. With an artist's eye, he produces images of these landscapes as the human eye would see them, revealing places of breathtaking, alien beauty. 

Planetary Science at the Natural History Museum

Scientists at the Natural History Museum are involved in international projects, including planning the landing site of the next Mars Rover. As well as analysing remote sensing data returned by robotic spacecraft, our scientists and curators care for a world-class collection of meteorites – rocks from asteroids, the Moon and Mars that have fallen to Earth. 

Meteorite studies

The Museum has a collection of more than 5,000 meteorites, which are studied by scientists from all over the world to learn more about the solar system, how it formed and what it’s made up of.
Around 99 per cent of the meteorites found on Earth come from the asteroid belt – an area between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter – with just a few from Mars and the Moon. 
As most asteroids never differentiated – the process by which a body melts into a sphere with a core, mantle and crust – the minerals within them are the same as those present at the beginning of the solar system. 
Studying meteorites has revealed that the solar system formed 4.567 billion years ago from the collapse of a dust cloud. This left a large disc of dust and debris, which coalesced to form the Sun, planets and moons.
Gale Crater Landscape
Gale Crater Landscape, NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures

Space missions

Researchers at the Museum work at the forefront of planning space missions, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars mission, scheduled to launch in 2018. In order to land a spacecraft on the surface of Mars, agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency require expert assessment of the terrain. 
This is done to understand not only if a potential landing site is scientifically interesting but also whether it’s even feasible to land there. Is it too rough and dangerous to attempt a landing? Researchers at the Museum work with ESA and NASA to evaluate these criteria for landing sites on Mars. 
Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System gives us a magnificent view of the solar system. Our aim has been to showcase the synergy of art and science that is so vividly conveyed by Michael Benson’s spectacular astrophotography, inspiring visitors with the raw beauty of the images and the amazing technological innovation behind them. 
Dark Side of the Rings
Dark Side of the Rings, NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures
If you have your own images of the cosmos to share, then the 2016 Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries next month
Otherworlds opens on 22 Jaunary at the Natural History Museum