The scale of space is unfathomable, Spanned Distances we Cannot truly comprehend, and yet we Having Deisgn and Instruments That can Peer not Only our own solar System and home galaxy, but back in time as well.
This week, Playfulness among the stars, we fly to the moon, Whither Scietnist Having an Thirstiness for Watery From the Lunar rock. out our satellite’s Surface has Hydroxyl molecules—OH, MADE up of E949 and oxygen, the AEdificium Blocks for the for Humankind life. (Hydroxyl can be Around the solar System as well.) At Some in the future, Scietnist Cannot a way to turn the E949 and oxygen into Watery to create a Unreliable Materials for Humankind Expeditions and habitation. We’re not Talks about survival: The Elements can also be to make fuel for rockets.
Off we go to Crown-witness the Birth of a star in a nebula. WHEN stars are born, They Enter the universe WITH Such a Violently force That the JET of gas Affects Other Materialss and set off a Purty Rare phenomenon, Such as Herbig-Haro objects.
Finally, we’re to Catch the of comet 46P/Wirtanen during its closest Approach to Eareth in December. Most Cometary are on extremely long orbits; it THEM or tens of of Annum to Around our Sun, Means having THEM close by can be quite the occasion. Many Cometary Ursidae a haze surrounding They nucleus, CALL a coma, MADE of Poisons gases, and 46P is no exception. Its coma is Composited of E949 Cyanogenesis, so let’s not get too well acquainted, Cannot we?
In 2010, photographer Nick Brandt, conservationist Richard Bonham, and entrepreneur Tom Hill founded the Big Life Foundation with the ambitious goal of ridding East Africa of animal poaching. Today, the nonprofit employs hundreds of local Maasai rangers to patrol over 1.6 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem. The program has been remarkably successful—between 2007 and 2014, around 96 elephants a year were killed for their ivory in southern Kenya alone; between 2014 and 2017, as Big Life’s operations scaled up, only two elephants were lost.
“It vastly exceeded my expectations,” says Brandt, an English-born photographer who now lives in California. “People still think the major issue with the destruction of wildlife in Africa is poaching, but especially in East Africa it’s no longer the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the population explosion that is happening. With that comes an invasion of humanity and development into what was not so long ago wildlife habitat.”
Brandt’s latest photography series highlights this new threat by appearing to show elephants, rhinos, zebras, and other wildlife strolling through construction sites, bus stops, and other signs of human habitation. Creating the illusion required a Hollywood-scale operation on Maasai land in Kenya, complete with actors, production crews, special effects artists, caterers, and all the other trappings of a film set.
For each shot, Brandt set up a motion-activated camera system on location in the East African savannah, then retreated to a camp 10 kilometers away to wait for animals to stroll into camera range. When an animal did so—usually in the middle of the night, since human encroachment has discouraged elephants and other large animals from venturing out during the day—an array of colored light bulbs flashed and the large-format camera took three shots that would later be combined into a panoramic stitch.
In some locations, animals arrived on set the morning after Brandt had rigged up the camera; in others, he had to wait up to six months to get a good shot. “Every morning we’d download what had come in overnight,” he recalls. “Sometimes it was a hallelujah moment, and many, many other mornings it was a sigh of disappointment that nothing had appeared on camera.”
After finally capturing an animal on film, Brandt kept the camera in the same location while his crew built a temporary set out of recycled materials and populated it with local Kenyans working as film extras. This “second-stage” photography alone took two months with the crew working mostly at night, a process Brandt described as “brutal.” The resulting photographs were digitally combined with the wildlife shots to create seamless images of animals wandering through a human-made habitat. “I wanted to symbolically capture the collision of these two worlds,” he says.
Brandt won’t disclose the project’s cost, but admits it was twice what he had originally budgeted. The results, he says, were worth the money, especially since the images will represent his last photography project in Africa. (He’s currently working on a series about global warming in the United States.) He called the series This Empty World because “to me the world would be very empty without extraordinary creatures such as these that are so endangered.” A book of the photos goes on sale this week from Thames and Hudson.
Although the population explosion in East Africa is responsible for pushing some of those creatures to the brink of extinction, Brandt doesn’t blame the Maasai people or other ordinary Kenyans. “The people in these photos are also victims,” he explains. “The aggressors are off-camera. They’re the developers and politicians who are only interested in short-term economic gain, at the expense of the long-term economic benefit of the community.”
You think the vortex is bad? It’s always cold outside in space, and usually around 80 degrees Fahrenheit below zero on Mars. Ever wonder how NASA’s Curiosity rover is doing? Glad you asked, because it’s taken some brand-new selfies. The rover has become famous for these epic shots (3.97 million Twitter followers can’t be wrong) using the camera attached to its long articulating arm. Once the set of images are sent back to Earth, folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory stitch them together and remove the giant arm so that what is left is a dusty but amazing Martian selfie.
Far out in our solar system we check out the latest object visited by the New Horizons probe, 2014 MU69. This object is thought to be a primordial rock from the very earliest days of our solar system, and because it is so far away, MU69 hasn’t been affected very much by the Sun, leaving most of its original material intact. That makes it a prime subject for scientific study.
Now we go much further afield to watch a galaxy die a slow, torturous death as all of its gas and dust gets yanked out, and then try to wrap our heads around dark energy and its role in expanding the universe. Space isn’t just cold, it’s cool!
As Major Tom told Ground Control, “the stars look very different today.” For last week’s or any week’s space photos, see WIRED’s full universal gallery here.
Happy New Year from space! This first week we are starting close and then traveling far across the cosmos. First we get a view from the moon, with the famous Apollo 8 image called Earthrise. A NASA astronaut took this photo out the window of the Apollo 8 capsule on Christmas Eve 1968 and it has changed how humanity sees the Earth ever since. Next we will fly over to Jupiter to watch some lighting in the cloud tops before heading out to the area of the distant solar system called the Kuiper Belt. In 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, giving us a closer look at the dwarf planet than anyone had ever gotten before, but they weren’t quite done exploring. This New Years’ Eve, the spacecraft flew past the object 2014 MU 69, marking another record of exploration: This 21-mile long icy rock is the most distant object that humankind has ever visited. By studying very distant Kuiper Belt objects like MU 69, scientists are able to peer back in time to the beginning of the solar system. Object like MU 69 are what’s called cold classical Kuiper Belt objects, they are untouched by the warmth of the sun and have been for nearly four billion years. So when we can swing by and collect science data, we get insights into what materials were floating around during the early days of the solar system.
Finally, we will depart the solar system entirely to visit the remnants of a dead star that exploded and left colorful gas and dust in its wake. Think of it as a very very distant New Year’s Eve firework display.
Want to keep hanging out in space? Peruse the full cosmic collection here.
With 7.4 million people crammed into its 426 square miles, Hong Kong can be overwhelming to tourists. But now an app tells you exactly what to see—or, more precisely, what to photograph.
Scroll through Explorest to find a surfeit of futuristic high-rises, minimalist staircases, and rooftop views perfect for selfies. Clicking on the pic tells you how to capture it—not only the GPS coordinates for where to plant your feet, but also the exact settings to punch into your camera (in the unlikely event it’s not a smartphone).
“Two of the most common questions asked on social media are ‘Where was this picture taken?’ and ‘How do I get there?'” says CEO Justin Myers. “We want to make traveling a more seamless, cultural experience using an extensive database of local knowledge.”
But Explorest is just an app-shaped version of something tourists already do: flit from attraction to attraction to take the same photos they’ve already seen of Buckingham Palace, the Golden Gate Bridge or even Brussels’ Peeing Boy. That script, staged again and again by countless visitors, reflects how photography has always shaped the travel experience—for good or bad.
“It can be an opening up to the world,” says Peter D. Osborne, the author of Photography and the Contemporary Cultural Condition, “or it can be forcing the world into your frame—as it were, almost literally.”
The standardization of travel all started in the 18th century, as guidebooks began directing visitors to “picturesque” views that looked like paintings. They recorded them with the gadgets of the day: Claude glasses reflected tinted, fisheye scenes that were easy to sketch, while Camera Lucidas actually transposed them onto the page. Nifty as those tools were, they couldn’t hold their own against the daguerreotype, a heavy wooden box camera introduced in 1839 that gentleman travelers soon began lugging to Greece and Egypt. But the early technology was still too cumbersome and time-consuming for most people, who just bought postcards.
Until Kodak. The introduction of George Eastman’s lightweight, foolproof camera in 1888 meant hordes of tourists could quickly press a button to capture their individual experiences … which turned out to be more or less identical.
That’s because photographs actually created the attractions in the first place. As sociologist Dean MacCannell observed in his 1976 book The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, images lift unknown landscapes from obscurity, marking them as significant and “setting the tourist in motion on his journey to find the true object.”
When you found it, you snapped a pic to prove it—a circular ritual John Urry describes in his 2002 book The Tourist Gaze. “What is sought for in a holiday is a set of photography images, which have already been seen in tour company brochures or on TV programmes,” he wrote. “[It] ends up with travellers demonstrating that they really have been there by showing their version of the images that they had seen before they set off.”
It’s less about seeing the place than taking the same photo as everyone else. At the Grand Canyon in the 1970s, Osborne saw a group of tourists lining up to snap pictures at a spot specially marked for doing so. “People were queuing up, quite politely, waiting their turns,” Osborne says. “I thought, ‘Why don’t they just spread out three or four meters on either side?”
That lemming-like practice didn’t change much with the democratization of tourism in the late 20th century, or even with the explosion of digital photography and social media in the 21st. Now there are more tourists than ever, more trips than ever, and more lookalike photographs than ever. They still depict the same definitive sites set out long ago in travel books, but as these attractions have become ordinary, the ordinary has also become the attraction. Your smartphone lets you snap an unlimited stream of Airbnbs, infinity pools and urban art—all of which you probably first saw on Instagram.
It’s tough to break out of that cycle. I knew it was silly to join the crowd of tourists clicking away at the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre a couple years ago—geotagging has made it all too clear how unoriginal those photos are. But I did it anyway, elbowing through a sea of smartphones and selfie sticks for a tourist-free shot at the front. The visit just didn’t feel complete without it. But why?
Because photographing something is a way of possessing it—at least, that’s what the critic Susan Sontag argued in her 1977 classic, On Photography. “To collect photographs is to collect the world,” she wrote. It confirms your connection to places and objects once distant and remote, making the world slightly smaller and less alienating.
Ironically, though, “collecting the world” might mean also losing it. “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir,” Sontag wrote.
Some recent studies support that idea. One suggested that taking a photo of something makes it harder to remember it. Another found museum-goers were less likely to remember objects if they took photos. And yet, photography is an impartial technology like any other.
Maybe the problem is less with the tool than with how it’s used. Most tourists will never be explorers in the traditional sense of the word, but you can still engage with what’s in front of you in a serious way—and the camera, and maybe even apps like Explorest, can help you do that. Jonas Larsen, professor of mobility at Roskilde University, has studied tourist behavior at attractions in Denmark. While some were hurriedly snapping away, others were taking their time, carefully studying their environment between snaps. “Rather than being reduced to something superficial, it can actually open you up to a more sustained kind of experience,” he says.
That feels true. During a high school trip to Italy, I lagged behind the group, stopping every few steps to take a photo with my Nikon film camera. It offered a way to look more deeply and express my delight at the details: walls overgrown with ivy, windows crowded with flower pots, a whitewashed monastery shining in the afternoon sun.
I wasn’t merely collecting shots of the world I’d already seen. I was soaking them in.
Before you head off into the great beyond, you first have to get out the door. Astronauts on the International Space Station have the benefit of perspective as they orbit Earth—a view so mind-blowingly awesome that it has been coined “the Overview Effect.” We mere nonastronauts can imagine what it would be like seeing the curvature of our home planet while surrounded by the blackness of space, and a few sci-fi films make the effort, but we’ll never really know how it feels until we get there. (Keep working on that, Bezos and Musk.) The European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst has just sent back a photo that shows not only how small in terms of scale we are, but how delicate our whole ecosystem is on this blue dot.
OK, now off we go with NASA’s spacecraft OSIRIS-REx on its mission to collect a sample of an asteroid called Bennu. Bennu is not remarkably large; at roughly 1,600 feet across, it’s one of the smallest asteroids out there. But: Bennu was targeted because the rare B-type asteroid is a time capsule of the early solar system. It might even contain amino acids and organic molecules, the building blocks for our DNA. OSIRIS-REx will soon enter orbit around the asteroid, where it will spend nearly a year carefully mapping its surface before descending to latch on and collect a sample to bring back to Earth. Scientists are eager to learn more about how the stuff at the foundation of our biology could be scattered around the solar system.
Black holes, nebulae, supernovae, everything: Peruse WIRED’s full cosmic collection of space photos here.
Happy Mars week! NASA just successfully land its InSight lander on the surface of Mars last Monday, and this week’s space photos will take us there. InSight sits just a few hundred miles north of where the Curiosity rover is exploring Gale Crater, and it will be the first spacecraft whose sole purpose is to study the interior of Mars. It will detect marsquakes and measure the heat coming from the inside of the planet, helping scientists understand what the interior of Mars looks like, how active is it down there, and how large the core is. Understanding these things will help scientists better understand Martian history—and the formation of the solar system.
Until InSight gets up and running, let’s look at images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter, which has spent years studying the way the climate changes on Mars. At the south pole, the thawing of water and carbon dioxide ices create odd metallic-looking patterns, while at the north pole, an intricate array of polygons appears when the planet transitions from winter to spring.
Enjoying being a temporary Martian? Check out the full collection of space photos here.
If this week’s space photos had a theme, it would be impacts. Let’s start with a blue dwarf galaxy that has a strange shape, almost like a sparkly smear across a window. Our dwarf galaxy is pretty and blue and it’s nice to think of it as a sweet stellar nursery, but in this case we’re actually seeing what happened after another galaxy got way too close—a violent clash of dust and gas.
Scientists have been studying star clusters for decades, but they are still not sure how they take shape. Using NASA’s SOFIA telescope, they think they’re a bit closer to unraveling this mystery. When one molecular cloud gets too cozy with another cloud, all that gas and dust come into contact at speeds above 20,000 miles per hour. By studying that violent collision, scientists are beginning to learn more about the building blocks for star factories.
Space fans, we have a visitor from the great beyond. This week’s rundown of space photos starts with a big “Welcome back!” to Comet McNaught, which caused a sensation in 1744.
When astronomers first observed it overhead in the 18th century, McNaught confounded them because it had not one, but six tails spread out across the sky. As it swung around Earth again in 2007, the comet put on an even bigger show. It had something to do with McNaught’s interactions with the solar wind, and new image processing from University College London now has brought in focus the effects of flowing particles from the Sun on comet dust. Comets draw out astronerds unlike anything except free beer, because these voyagers are time capsules of the solar system’s early days. When they fly past Earth, it’s an opportunity for researchers to look at the building blocks left over from our formation 4.6 billion years ago.