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Myles Little

What began in 2003 as an exploration of the mundane world of kitchenware has morphed over the past decade into something much more profound for Norwegian photographer Christopher Jonassen.

Devour is Jonassen’s series of still lifes of the bottoms of old frying pans — a series that, despite its quotidian subject matter, manages to touch upon (quite literally) universal concerns.

“When I was studying abroad in Australia,” Jonassen recalls, “I lived in a cheap share house with some friends, and the cooking utensils were banged up in a pretty bad way.” He began photographing the pans as a way to reflect on “the repetitive and mundane actions we do every day.” Jonassen dug through the cellars and attics of friends and family members, looking for likely candidates. But his favorite pans were those used by the local boy scout troop.

“They bring out big iron pans and put them directly into an open fire out in the woods,” Jonassen says. “Heavy iron pans, burnt black and scraped with knives.”

He shot hundreds of pans over the course of several years, all the while refining the vision, and is still working on the project today. While most of the pans look similar to the way they did when he first found them, Jonassen rubbed oil on a few to enhance their texture, and relied on lighting techniques and basic Photoshop to achieve his results.

“I think it’s important to notice the beauty in the small things we surround ourselves with everyday,” Jonassen says, and Devour is, in part, his own vivid testament to that belief. Note the rich, molten red of Slide #1 and the gorgeous cerulean blues in Slide # 6. The poet Walt Whitman voiced a similar tenet — a faith in the profound significance of the littlest things — in his 1855 masterpiece, “Song of Myself”:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars…
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery…

Perhaps the most striking thing about the pictures is how closely, and how eerily, these ordinary kitchen pans resemble planets and moons — an effect that Jonassen says was intentional.  “I found that each pan more or less had a planet hidden inside it,” Jonassen says, “and it was up to me to discover it.” Slide #3 resembles Mars, even down to the planet’s polar ice caps of solid carbon dioxide. Slide #8 brings to mind Neptune, whose tranquil blue appearance belies winds that reach 1,300 miles per hour.

There’s something thrilling about how the project threads this needle — from a kitchen cabinet, across the reaches of space, to alien worlds. Thus, Jonassen seems to heed the words of the poet William Blake, who in 1803 asked his readers to “see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower.”

Jonassen began the project interested in the cooking pan as an emblem of the ordinary, but he soon became fascinated by “how everyday life was wearing out the metal of the pans, one tiny scratch at a time.” He says he wants to create “a link between the small traces we leave behind every day, [and] the enormous impact this adds up to over time. I am very concerned about the way we are treating this planet. The title also reflects this. ‘Devour’ means to eat up greedily; to destroy, consume and waste; to prey upon voraciously.” Thus, Jonassen draws a subtle, visually compelling link between the destruction of a banged-up pan and the degradation of our blue planet.

To see a world in a grain of sand … and the cosmos in a frying pan. It’s not quite Blake, perhaps, but for photography fans, Devour offers a rare, unexpected form of poetry for the eye.

Christopher Jonassen is an internationally acclaimed artist based in Norway.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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The startling majesty – and deceptive complexity – of Michael Benson’s space art can be traced back through a process he dubs “true color.” A multimedia artist, Benson is a man utterly fascinated with outer space (he points to 2001: A Space Odyssey as an inspiration for his interstellar works — works that so impressed 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke that the sci-fi titan agreed to write the foreword to one of Benson’s books), and he has fixed his talents on creating visions that break free of the confines of Earth, enabling viewers to behold the unseen wonders of the universe.

To encounter a Benson landscape is to be in awe of not only how he sees the universe, but also the ways in which he composes the never-ending celestial ballet. From the spidery volcanic fractures that scar the surface of Venus to the time-lapse flight path of a stray asteroid, the dizzying close-ups of the swirling “red spot” of Jupiter, the x-ray-filtered view of the sun’s surface and the rippling red dunes of Mars, Benson is a visual stylist with a gift for framing and focus. Apart from cutting-edge high-definition renderings of our solar system’s most familiar objects, he also routinely converts extra-terrestrial terrain into thrilling, abstract landscapes that seem positioned somewhere between the scientific and the avant-garde.

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

The cover of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions

Some of his greatest achievements skew towards the hyper realistic; I have been following Benson’s work for years and still the image I remember most is a massive, intricately-detailed view of the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons (slide 13 in the gallery above). Looming large in a print that renders the Io surface in a yellow-brownish hue, delineating the moon’s different terrains, Benson’s color scheme accentuates the dark volcanic calderas that dot the satellite’s surface. The final result is sharp, meticulous and magnificent. At first glimpse it’s a simple planetary object, but the closer your eye scans the terrain, the more you realize that Benson has somehow taken this imagery captured 400 million miles away and given us a front-row seat to consider the turbulent topography of this alien orb. Benson’s visions demand more than a single look; the longer one spends with his vast landscapes, considering the scale and scope, the more they facilitate a state of meditation.

Behind every one of these images, however, lies an intricate and involved photo editing process (watch the video of Benson’s method above). Benson typically begins each work by filtering through hundreds or thousands of raw images from space, made available to the public by NASA and the European Space Agency – photographs that have been taken by unmanned space probes flying throughout the solar system, rovers on Mars or humans aboard the International Space Station. Many of these photos come back to Earth as black and white composites, or as images created with only a few active color filters. Benson then sorts through the images in a hunt for something surprising, revealing or noteworthy. Once he’s found a subject of interest, he starts stitching together individual snapshots to create larger landscapes, and filtering these landscapes through his own color corrections to create a spectrum that approximates how these interstellar vistas would appear to the human eye.

In his latest published photo collection Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, now available from Abrams, Benson details the fine points of his processing techniques:

“The process of creating full-color images from black-and-white raw frames—and mosaic composites in which many such images are stitched together—can be quite complicated,” Benson writes. “In order for a full-color image to be created, the spacecraft needs to have taken at minimum two, but preferably three, individual photographs of a given subject, with each exposed through a different filter… ideally, those filters are red, green, and blue, in which case a composite color image can usually be created without too much trouble. But in practice, such spacecraft as the Cassini Orbiter or the Mars Exploration Rovers … have many different filters, which they use to record wavelengths of light well outside of the relatively narrow red, green and blue (RGB) zone of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.”

Benson goes on to explain that he will often start working with images that are missing an essential filter — that ultraviolet and infrared filters have been used instead of color filters, meaning the composite image is lacking necessary information.

It is here where Benson has carved out an area of expertise, filling in that missing image information to add shape, scale and color to the planetary bodies he hopes to explore. The resulting visuals, as you can see above, are pristine and powerful glimpses of the furthest reaches of our solar system (and, in some of Benson’s other works, the very edges of the universe). With the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and its subsequent photographs of what appears to be Martian riverbeds, the world was once again reminded of the power of a single image transmitted back to Earth across millions of miles of open space. It’s a dizzying thing, to behold an alien world, and scanning through the portfolio of Michael Benson — a true “space odyssey” — is to experience this rush of discovery again and again.

Michael Benson’s new book Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, is now available from Abrams. Also featured above are images from Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2008). Images from Planetfall will be on display at New York’s Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in December 2012. To see more of Benson’s work, visit his web site.

Steven James Snyder is an Assistant Managing Editor at TIME.com.

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Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Taking pictures on another world has never been just point and click. For decades, unmanned probes from Earth have been venturing to distant planets, moons and other bodies—and for just as many decades, the images they have sent home have been composed and transmitted in a decidedly painstaking way. That is especially so in the case of the 360-degree panorama NASA is now releasing of the Curiosity rover’s landing site in Mars’s Gale Crater.

Even on Earth, you have to be selective when you photograph a landscape. After all, no matter how glorious your picture of one part of the Grand Canyon is, it by definition leaves out countless other, equally glorious parts. The only way to capture the whole sweep of the place is to take many small images and bit by bit, piece them all together. That’s hard enough when the camera is in your hand. Now imagine doing it when all of your hardware is 154 million miles away and the data has to be streamed back you in a comparative trickle that, even moving at light speed, takes 17 minutes to get here.

(See more: Inside Look at the Mars Curiosity Rover)

But NASA did just that to produce its full pirouette picture of the Marscape that surrounds Curiosity. The panorama was built from 30 smaller images shot by the rover’s Navcams—or navigation cameras—on Aug. 18 and Aug. 7. Each picture has a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 1,024 pixels, and all of them have been combined in such a way that the seams connecting them disappear. The lighter colored strip at the top right of the image is the rim of Gale Crater—chosen as the landing site because it was once a deep sea. Also visible is the peak of nearby Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 mi. (5.5 km) into the rust-red sky. The portions of the picture in the Martian sky that appear gray are parts of the mosaic that have not yet been added, but will be the next time NASA updates the image.

As their name implies, the Navcams are used mostly for reconnaissance purposes—scouting out where the rover will drive and mapping the best route to get there. They were thus not designed with beauty in mind—and that means they shoot only in black and white. The cameras mounted atop Curiosity’s mast capture the full range of desert-like colors that define the brutally beautiful Gale Crater environment. The entire suite of on-board cameras will have a lot of work to do in the two years ahead—and every picture they take will be one worth saving. Once the rover starts rolling, after all, it will never be staying in any one place for long.

(Related: Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space)

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NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Ariz.

A long strip image from the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Curiosity rover's landing spot in Gale Crater, as well as the terrain leading south toward the mountain known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp. The colors have been stretched to emphasize differences in surface composition. A dune field can be seen in deep shades of blue. Beyond the dunes, mesas and buttes are part of the terrain surrounding the 3-mile-high mountain.

By Alan Boyle

Follow @b0yle

Fresh imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the newly arrived Curiosity rover sitting at its landing site in Gale Crater, as well as the sand dunes and rugged terrain that the rover must pass through to conduct its $2.5 billion science mission.

The dunes are painted in colorful shades of ultramarine, but those aren't the true colors: Most of the color images from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, are color-coded to emphasize subtle differences in surface composition. The shades of blue are actually dusty shades of gray to the human eye. The area around the rover itself has a blue tinge because of the dust that was disturbed during Curiosity's rocket-powered sky-crane landing on Aug. 5.

Even some of the pictures sent back from the surface by Curiosity have been brightened up to reflect Earthlike lighting conditions, said HiRISE's principal investigator, Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona. Pictures from Mars look "blander" because the sunlight has to filter through red Martian dust in the atmosphere, he said. Many of the processed pictures from Curiosity's mission are being provided in both "true color" (Marslike) and "white-balanced" (Earthlike) versions.

Curiosity's primary mission is due to last one Martian year, or almost two Earth years, and the rover might need the first half of that mission to make its way south through the dunes. A picture from Curiosity's vantage point shows the dunes as a dark streak in the distance.

"We need to get to the clays which are just beyond that dune field that you see, and then up into the sulfate-bearing rocks which tend to form these buttes and mesas," said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist. "You're seeing really the scientific mission before you here."

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Vasavada said it's about 5 miles (8 kilometers) as the crow flies between the rover and its science targets at the base of a 3-mile-high mountain (5-kilometer-high) known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp. McEwen said there's roughly 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) between the rover and the bottom edge of the orbital image, which was taken six days after Curiosity's landing from an altitude of about 168 miles (270 kilometers).

The rover is designed to analyze rocks and soil for the chemical signatures of potential habitability — using a laser zapper, an X-ray beam, a drill, an onboard laboratory and other high-tech gear. Curiosity is still going through its post-landing checkouts, but the show could start going on the road in a week or so.

More about Mars:

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBC News' other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.

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astroengine writes "So it turns out U.S. radars weren't to blame for the unfortunate demise of Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars sample return mission — it was a computer programming error that doomed the probe, a government board investigating the accident has determined."
According to the Planetary Society Blog's unofficial translation and paraphrasing of the incident report, "The spacecraft computer failed when two of the chips in the electronics suffered radiation damage. (The Russians say that radiation damage is the most likely cause, but the spacecraft was still in low Earth orbit beneath the radiation belts.) Whatever triggered the chip failure, the ultimate cause was the use of non-space-qualified electronic components. When the chips failed, the on-board computer program crashed."


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The themes that have defined the more than 30-year career of Thomas Ruff were born while the influential German photographer was studying under famed photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1977 to 1985. Known for their typology work of water towers in which they photographed with a straightforward point of view, the Bechers believed that images which were photographed objectively were more truthful. Bernd Becher criticized Ruff’s student work, faulting his photographs for not being his own. They were simply clichés, Becher argued, mimicking fictionalized images in magazines. Ruff turned the criticism on its head—he began to make images that questioned the very methodology of image making.

“Most of the photos we come across today are not really authentic anymore,” Ruff once said. “They have the authenticity of a manipulated and prearranged reality. You have to know the conditions of a particular photograph in order to understand it properly.”

It’s easy to see these ideas in Ruff’s space work, the topic of a new exhibition and book called Stellar Landscapes, which premiered at the Frankfurt Book Fair last weekend. In his book, Ruff includes appropriated imagery of space that he has collected over the last 20 years. In some of the photographs, Ruff used images made from NASA satellites, which he downloaded for free online. Ruff often took images that seemed to be abstract renderings of the surface of a planet and used color to abstract them further. Other times, the photographer hand colored the NASA photographs to make abstract scenes more realistic. Ruff has always had a fascination with the dialogue between photography and context of a photograph. It seems only natural, then, that Ruff translated this idea into reworking existing NASA images of to present another—and equally important—view of space.

Stellar Landscapes is on view at the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster through January 8. The book is available now through Kerher Verlag.

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