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Planetfall: Snapshots from the solar system
From Earth to space
The Pacific Ocean glows at sunset in this view from the International Space Station, captured from an altitude of 235 miles on July 21, 2003. This wide-angle view of our home planet is among more than 120 large-format photos featured in "Planetfall: New Solar System Visions," by Michael Benson. Benson defines "planetfall" as the moment of visual contact with the planets, and his book is aimed at conveying the thrill of that moment through beautiful interplanetary images. Click onward to see more highlights from "Planetfall," published by Abrams.
Our living sun
The solar corona and magnetic loops blaze during an eclipse of the sun by Earth on April 2, 2011, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. In this image, the outer plasma atmosphere of the sun, 200 times hotter than the sun’s surface, is occulted by our planet. The graduated reduction in our view is due to the variable density of Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks ultraviolet light.
Moment of impact
A projectile launched from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft blasts into the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. The resulting cloud of dust and ice expands in space. The aim of the Deep Impact mission was to analyze the composition of the 3.7-mile-wide comet.
Jupiter and Io
A mosaic composite photograph taken by the Cassini spacecraft shows Jupiter with one of its moons, Io, crossing the planet's right edge on Jan. 1, 2001. South is up in this view. At the time, Cassini was just passing by Jupiter, heading for its primary mission at Saturn.
Saturn and Enceladus
Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, shoots geysers of water into space in this view from Saturn’s nightside, captured by the Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 25, 2009. The water immediately freezes, becoming ice crystals.
The geysers of Enceladus
The Saturnian moon Enceladus vents water into space from its south polar region in this mosaic composite photograph from the Cassini spacecraft, captured on Dec. 25, 2009. The moon is lit by the sun on the left, and backlit by the vast reflecting surface of its parent planet to the right. Ice crystals from these plumes are thought to feed Saturn’s nebulous E ring, within which Enceladus orbits.
Titan and Saturn
Titan upstages Saturn’s rings and limb in this image, made by the Cassini spacecraft on May 21, 2011. Titan's surface features are barely visible through the moon’s dense atmosphere in this picture. Those features can't be seen by the naked eye; this sharper view is partly due to camera filters capable of cutting through Titan’s murk.
The cover image for Michael Benson's "Planetfall: New Solar System Visions" shows Saturn's moon Mimas against the backdrop of shadows cast by the planet's rings on its northern hemisphere. In the lower third of the picture, we see the lit side of the rings from an oblique angle. North is up. The image was made by the Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 7, 2004.
For more information on Michael Benson's work, visit his website, http://michael-benson.net/. An exhibition of his work will be on display at Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, 534 W. 24th St. in New York, in December 2012 and January 2013.