Let’s rewind to 1965. Around ten years before the personal computer was invented and twenty years before the first cell phones were released to the public, this was the year that saw the first color television released to the mass market. Families would gather around the set to catch up on daily news broadcasts on one of three channels. On July 15, when NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew within 6,118 miles of Mars as it passed the planet, it was big news, but when the image data was transmitted back to Earth, scientists didn’t have the technology to quickly render a photograph that could be televised. Taking a queue from a popular mid-century pastime, the very first representation of another planet viewed from a vantage point in space was a data-driven paint-by-number drawing.
The Mariner 4 probe was NASA’s second attempt to capture an image of the surface of Mars after a camera shroud malfunctioned on Mariner 3. Dan Goods, who presently leads a team called The Studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describes how the scientists troubleshot and devised their next steps when faced with technical anomalies and errors:
After the flyby of the planet, it would take several hours for computers to process a real image. So while they were waiting, the engineers thought of different ways of taking the 1’s and 0’s from the actual data and create an image. After a few variations, it seemed most efficient to print out the digits and color over them based upon how bright each pixel was.
We now turn our focus to a scientist named Richard Grumm, who chose a more analog means of visualizing data as a failsafe if the intended image failed to transmit. He went to a local art supplies shop and requested gray chalk; the shop sent him with back to the lab with a pack of Rembrandt pastels. He and his team used the crayons to color in the 1’s and 0’s data, printed on 3-inch wide ticker tape, and determined the brightness level of the image using a key in shades of orange, brown, and yellow.
In spite of Mars’ nickname the “Red Planet,” the color scheme was coincidental. Grumm was concerned primarily with gradients and how it would appear in grayscale, since televisions were still in black-and-white. He justified the drawing to the Jet Propulsion Lab’s wary PR department—which thought the pastel drawing would be a distraction and preferred the public saw the real image—as a means to record the data in case Mariner 4’s equipment also failed. Eventually, the media found out anyway, and the pastel drawing was the first image of Mars to be broadcast on television.
In time, Mariner 4’s black-and-white photograph did come through successfully, and in comparison, Grumm’s drawing appears widened due to the width of the ticker tape. You can read more about this historic moment on Dan Goods’ blog and on the NASA website. (via Kottke)
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Since its inception in 2015, submissions to the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (previously) have captured some of nature’s most hapless and humorous moments. In this year’s contest, the overall winner was Jennifer Hadley’s timely snap of a 3-month old lion cub tumbling down a tree, taken in the Serengeti, Tanzania. Hadley shared that she and her travel companions had been watching the cub in the tree for some time. “It didn’t even occur to me that he would make a go of getting down by himself in the most un-cat like fashion. I mean, how often do cats fall out of trees?” she says.
In this year’s juried contest, 5,000 entries from 85 countries amounted to fierce competition, showcasing “seriously funny” images in an effort to highlight the diversity of the world’s wildlife and raise awareness of the need for conservation. In partnership with the Whitley Fund for Nature, the contest contributes 10% of revenue toward conservation efforts in countries across the Global South.
See a gallery of all winning images on the competition website, and if you would like to enter your own images for consideration in the 2023 contest, applications are now open.
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Underneath soft light from the moon or the early morning sun, Finnish photographer Mikko Lagerstedt (previously) captures the quiet magic and mystery of Nordic landscapes. Ice clings to tree branches, an aurora streaks through the sky, and vast fields of snow cover the ground in scenes that are both serene and full of grandeur.
Part of the In The Solitude series, many of the images shown here are single-exposure photos edited in Lightroom, although a few utilize multiple shots to convey the majestic nature of the region. Lagerstedt tends to focus on the unique colors and textures of the area, including stars dotting a deep blue sky, lines etched into the earth’s surface by the wind, and strips of pastel light.
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In Tom Hegen’s Aerial Photos, Swimmers and Loungers Texture Two Florida Beaches with Colorful Patterns
As much of the northern hemisphere braces for gray, wintery weather, photographer Tom Hegen (previously) highlights the warm, vibrant oceanside of Florida’s Siesta Key and Miami beaches. Swimmers and sunbathers escaping the rays under colorful umbrellas line the coast and appear as textured, geometric shapes dotting the water and white sandy expanses. The Beach Series juxtaposes the haphazard with the organized, documenting both neat rows of uniform loungers and clusters of people as they congregate along the shoreline.
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Bay Area-animator Brett Foxwell is drawn to the vast array of colors and textures within the natural world. His 2017 short film “WoodSwimmer” zeroed in on the unique grain of cross-cut trees, and his latest project similarly centers on organic diversity by highlighting thousands of leaves as they change from their summer to autumn hues.
In the mesmerizing stop-motion short, rapid flashes of foliage dance on the black backdrop and illuminate the unique bend of a stem, variances in veins, and the way verdant pigments drain from each specimen in inconsistent patterns. “While collecting leaves, I conceived that the leaf shape of every single plant type I could find would fit somewhere into a continuous animated sequence of leaves if that sequence were expansive enough. If I didn’t have the perfect shape, it meant I just had to collect more leaves,” he shares about the project.
“The Book of Leaves” accompanies Foxwell’s larger project “Leaf Presser,” a trippier animation of the same nature, which you can find along with his other works on Vimeo. (via The Kids Should See This)
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The ‘Pillars of Creation’ Glow in Remarkable Detail in a Groundbreaking Image from NASA’s James Webb Telescope
In a small region within the vast Eagle Nebula—a 6,500 light-year journey from our solar system in the constellation Serpens—the iconic “Pillars of Creation” appear in a ghostly formation. Made of cool hydrogen gas and dust, these incubators for new stars are dense celestial structures that have survived longer than their surroundings. Ultraviolet light from incredibly hot newborn stars gradually erodes the surrounding space and illuminates the ethereal surfaces of the pillars and the streams of gas they emit.
Since July, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has released numerous photographs of the cosmos in unprecedented detail. To process this image, scientists combined captures taken with the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which brought different elements into focus. Near-infrared light emphasizes the stars, including thousands of newly-formed orange spheres that hover around the columns. The saturated hues around the interstellar formations are visible thanks to the mid-infrared contribution, which highlights the diffused orange dust around the top, deep indigo of the densest regions, and bright neutral color of the pillars. Lava-red spots on the upper parts of the spires contain young, embedded stars that will continue to form for millions of years.
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