History Illustration Science
Jean Baptiste Vérany’s Wildly Influential Cephalopod Chromolithographs Depict Sea Creatures in Stunning Opalescent Color
In 1851, French pharmacist-turned-naturalist Jean Baptiste Vérany (1800–1865) published a collection of illustrations that captured the subtle colors and tonal variances of cephalopods. A class of mollusks that includes squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus, cephalopods have pronounced, often bulbous heads, symmetric bodies, and arms and tentacles known to produce ink. The marine creatures became a source of fascination for Vérany after a research expedition with Franco Andrea Bonelli, a preeminent ornithologist and entomologist, who helped usher in the young naturalist’s interest in zoology.
Some of Vérany’s most-recognized contributions to natural history include the chromolithographs—lithographs with several layers of color—released in his book Mollusques Méditeranéens: observès, decrits, figurès et chromolithographies d’après le vivant, or Mediterranean molluscs: observed, described, figured and chromolithographs from life. The volume includes 41 illustrations that are rendered in exacting detail and exemplify Vérany’s unparalleled understanding of color. Subtle shifts from pink to aqua, vivid reds, and vast explorations of opalescence characterize his works, which sought to capture “the suppleness of the flesh, the grace of the contours, the flexibility of the membranes, the transparency, and the coloring,” according to Public Domain Review.
In addition to depicting the lively sea creatures with unprecedented accuracy for the time, Vérany also affected the work of several influential figures, including novelist Victor Hugo, glass artists Léopold and Rudolf Blaschka, and even the lauded biologist Ernst Haeckel, who Vérany first introduced to cephalopods in 1856. Haeckel even copied some of his mentor’s plates for Kunstformen der Natur, a volume of 100 prints recognized as one of the first books to close the divide between art and science.
Explore more of Vérany’s pivotal works in the always free and accessible Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously).
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Composite Images From NASA’s Most Powerful Telescopes Reveal Mind-Boggling Details of the Cosmos
Combining data from some of NASA’s most powerful instruments, four new composites highlight the enormity of the cosmos in unprecedented detail. Imagery from the Chandra Observatory and the James Webb and Hubble telescopes—plus infrared information from the Spitzer telescope’s final missions—mesh together to generate mesmerizing views of iconic nebulae and galaxies.
Messier 74, a spiral galaxy more than 30 million light-years from Earth, is sometimes called the Phantom Galaxy due to its relative dimness (despite hosting around 100 billion stars!). Webb captured its swirling network in infrared, spotlighting gas and dust, while Chandra provided X-ray data of high-energy stars. Returning a little closer to home, for the Pillars of Creation in Messier 16, a.k.a. the Eagle Nebula—about 7,000 light-years away—Webb contributed the dusty forms that shroud fledgling stars and Chandra included the glowing blue and red dots.
Explore in-depth analysis of the images, plus the individual sources, on the Chandra Observatory’s website, which also include a star cluster called NGC 34 and the “barred spiral” galaxy NGC 1672. (via PetaPixel)
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Documentary History Science
A Humbling Short Film Visualizes the Breathtaking Magnitude of 13.8 Billion Years of Cosmic Existence
The human conception of time is limited. We often think in hours, days, and years, units of measurement that are comprehensible when considering our lifetimes or those of generations past. Even decades and centuries, though, are only a minuscule fraction in the timeline of the universe and are wholly inadequate when assessing a nearly 14-billion-year history.
A new short by Alex Gorosh (previously) and Wylie Overstreet (previously) helps to visualize the immensity of cosmic creation beyond the clock and calendar. Four years in the making, “To Scale: TIME” takes the filmmakers to a 4.3-mile stretch across the arid Mojave Desert, where they install small lights to create a timeline of human civilization and the broader universe. Augmented with visuals of galaxies and historical events, the resulting work captures the magnitude of 13.8 billion years and is an awe-inspiring reminder of how small humans are in both time and space.
Watch the humbling film on YouTube, where Gorosh and Overstreet also share a making-of video that documents their process. “To Scale: TIME” is the second project in the duo’s series of model-based works and follows their striking visualization of the solar system.
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Flat-Lays of Halved Walnuts and Other Shells Study the Diversity of the Botanical Fruits
During a visit to the Zürich arboretum, Jonas Frei came across a nut species rarely found in Europe. The Juglans cinerea, or white walnut, is native to the U.S. and Canada and has a ribbed, oblong shell that once cracked, reveals a sweet, fleshy innard. Its presence in the Swiss enclave dates back to 1887, when the botanist Carl Joseph Schröter planted a tree that eventually produced the non-native fruits and sparked Frei’s enduring interest in the plant genus.
Based in Schaffhausen, Frei is a naturalist, illustrator, and landscape architect whose interest in botany has taken him to gardens, arboretums, and parks throughout Europe and North America. He recently spent time in Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum after being awarded the James R. Jewett Prize, which allowed him to expand his research on the walnut and explore how it’s migrated over centuries. Much of his work is focused on making science easily digestible and visually intriguing to a general audience. “Research itself really is my goal,” he tells Colossal. “I want to understand the subject and make the knowledge accessible through my writing and the aesthetical presentation of the diversity of species and cultivars.”
Shared through illustrations and flat-lay photos, Frei’s studies have recently culminated in a book devoted to walnuts and hickories, which brings together the cultural, historical, and botanical importance of these diverse plants. “I was driven not only by my scientific interest in Juglandaceae but also by my enthusiasm for the aesthetics of their habits, leaves, and fruits. The readers of my book should be able to make their own journey of discovery through the walnut family, on the tracks I have uncovered with my research,” he says.
The expanded edition of Frei’s book, which includes updates from his studies at Arnold Arboretum, is available along with posters, prints, and a similar volume focused on hazelnuts on his site. Follow his latest research on Instagram.
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Explore the Extraordinary Eons-Old Details of the Moon’s Surface in an Astounding 1.3-Gigapixel Composite
For his latest celestial undertaking, Arizona-based astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy turned his lens toward the moon, documenting the Earth’s satellite in astounding detail. As he’s wont to do, McCarthy stitched together a staggering number of images to create a composite so large that it reveals the craggy, pocked surface in extraordinary detail.
“GigaMoon” is, as its name suggests, a 1.3-gigapixel image comprised of 280,000 individual photos captured on two telescopes, one for detail and one for color. Taken on the unusually clear night of April 29 during its waxing gibbous phase, the work reveals a surface rich with history. “Zoom in and see the irregular shapes of sinuous lava tubes, the catastrophic scars from impact craters, monstrous canyons, and towering mountains,” McCarthy says, alluding to the interactive version that allows viewers to magnify different areas. The photographer’s largest image to date, “GigaMoon” offers a rare glimpse into the nighttime orb and the current state of its form after eons in existence.
There are currently a few prints of the work available in his shop, and PetaPixel has all the details on McCarthy’s equipment and process. You can follow his adventures in astronomy on Instagram.
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Fluorescent Photographs by Tom Leighton Highlight the Remarkable Complexities of Plants After Dark
“Plants are incredible stores of energy,” says photographer Tom Leighton, whose fluorescent-tinged images of foliage highlight the incredible night life of plants in his ongoing Variegation series. He explores the detailed colors and textures of leaves and stems, accentuating an important counterpart to the complex daytime process of photosynthesis, which creates chemical energy and oxygen from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. “After the sun fades, the process of photosynthesis stops and respiration begins,” he says. “Plants begin to burn their stored sugars and breathe back in some of the precious oxygen they have created.”
Leighton primarily focuses on species found around his native Cornwall—often in his own garden—and captures contrasting venation patterns, serrated edges, and multiple colors. He digitally removes the green tones we associate with vegetation to reveal glowing violet, pink, and blue hues. “It is very experimental… There are limitless options and techniques that I combine to get to each finished image,” he says, sharing that a minor color choice or a small crop can transform the outcome.
Explore more of Leighton’s work on Behance, his website, and Instagram.
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