In 2013, NASA’s unmanned Cassini orbiter probe sent back to Earth some of the most precise images of the planet Saturn and its rings ever taken, so precise that they achieved a distinctly abstract quality. Captured with a scientific eye, the Cassini images convey a minimalist sensibility, like National Geographic photos art-directed by Peter Saville.
Cassini’s images reveal the challenges facing human eyesight in zero gravity. If you are floating weightlessly in orbit above Saturn, for example, and are gazing down upon its surface and its rings, there is no up or down, no right way to view the scene. Our sense of perspective would become warped: perhaps we are small beings gazing up at a massive cosmic body, or perhaps we are gods, looking down on a miniature realm.
Against the pure blackness of empty space, the fine curved lines of Saturn’s rings appear like grooves in a vinyl record. That little speck of dust seen near the grooves is planet Earth: wipe the record clean and an entire world disappears into the black.