Experience the planets

By Phil Plait | August 11, 2009 7:00 am

Check out this digital drawing of Saturn:

Experience the Planets artist drawing of Saturn

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Drawn by artist Gregory Siegburg, it’s part of a new project called Experience the Planets, started by a talented group of artists who want to create and collect beautiful artwork of the planets so that people can get a view of them that — so far — are difficult to obtain or cannot be achieved with our probes.

The pictures they have there are incredible, and available for download as wallpaper, too. My only complaint is that they don’t have enough! But they’re looking for more artists, so if you have the talent, you might want to contact them. They’re supported by the International Year of Astronomy, too! So this is the real thing.

Go there and check out their work. It’s beautiful.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA, Pretty pictures

Comments (51)

  1. gopher65

    That’s awesome! I’m always looking for great space related artwork.

  2. Sweet! We could always use more great concept art, because not only does it inspire imagination, but it gives us something to compare to as we probe and observe :)

    I wonder if they’ll add Pluto, or Sedna, or Ceres. Do dwarf planets not count? Plus there’s the Galilean moons, the Sun, or comets… all of which are beautiful and inspiring parts of our solar system.

    This could be a big project if they wanted it to be. But I guess the 8 big planets make for a good starting point!

  3. Alan Stern

    Beautiful work, but they left out Ceres, Pluto, and all the others.

  4. rob

    Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.

  5. Dude, having a wallpaper of an artistic rendition of Pluto would be AMAZING!

    this is cool.

  6. Alex

    I’d add a complaint that the website is flash based, for no good reason. This makes it much harder to navigate (no back button for example) and that they’ve hidden the download links so that most people won’t even find them.

    If you’re going to do something like this, make it easy to use.

  7. Kevin

    All I have to say is…


  8. How can I get a giant poster of these images? There’s an empty spot on my wall that wants a killer artistic rendering of Saturn!

  9. Nuts, Alan (#4), I saw that poking around the site and meant to mention it in the post (but I wrote it late last night and forgot).

    Of course, they may just be toeing the official party line.

  10. If probes have not gone there yet, then how do the artists know what it will look like to draw?

  11. Quiet Desperation

    Wow. Flash *and* defualt on background music. Yep. Artist site.

  12. Someonelse

    This picture inspired me to use the de-motivational poster DIY (@ http://diy.despair.com/motivator.php) to make an actual motivational poster of my own.

    Exploration,Experience the Planets,Saturn,Saturn's Rings

    a link in case the HTML doesn’t show up – http://i265.photobucket.com/albums/ii233/someonelse812/Exploration.jpg

  13. I suppose it’s a pity my 3D renders of Saturn DO reproduce the images obtained with probes… (the only way to make them as close to reality as possible)

    I’ll have to upload them somewhere or something like that.

  14. Hey all, in response to the queries about Pluto (and it’s conspicuous ommission from Experience The Planets) I thought I might post some clarification here…

    Experience The Planets (ETP) is an art project with the possibility of growth in its future. Getting off the ground, however, was a more immediate goal and to do this I needed to set some sort of boundaries for the project lest the artists spread themselves too thin. With this in mind, the immediate solar system consisting of the 8 planets suggested itself as a concise set to begin working within… I have every intention of expanding the project should it begin to fill out nicely, spreading the scope to include Kuiper Belt objects and the Oort cloud (for example). For now though, it makes more sense to get up to steam amidst the myriad possibilities our inner and outer planets present.

    Don’t worry, we’ll get Pluto in there eventually…

  15. ethanol

    Awesome! Flash or no, I fully support projects like these. Imagination, informed by science can take us many places that actual photos cannot yet, and can do it with an artistic perspective that NASA’s cameras often lack. Not that there aren’t a great many beautiful images sent back by probes, but I think it is a combination of extraordinary subject matter and random chance; generally probes are directed to take pictures which will yield the most scientific, not aesthetic returns.

  16. dhtroy

    Everytime someone mentions Pluto, I cannot help but think of this T-Shirt:

    Pluto Replies

  17. C

    Awesome. Anything Greg Martin has my vote out of the gate.

  18. CW

    These are beautiful images, but I think I’ll stay with my Magnetar wallpaper. I love telling people who ask me what it is, about the characteristics and features of Magnetars.

  19. Dave

    @16: Greg Martin

    Those pictures are amazing, Greg! However, I’m with Alex on some of the complaints for being a flash-based site – it’s not very accessible and the picture download links are fairly well hidden, so there’s a lot of people that the site won’t be able to reach. I think usability is important with outreach programs like this, because we really want to maximize the number of people that we can connect with! If you’re interested, here are some thoughts that should help users enjoy the site even more. :-)

    – Have you considered putting the download links under the picture (perhaps right above the “close” button?) rather than in the “More Information” section? That would make it more obvious that there are big versions available right away.

    – Also, “Close” to go back to the image selection is counter-intuitive for a lot of users – because the picture takes up the whole page, it doesn’t feel like closing a window to get back to whatever is underneath. Maybe “Back” or “Back to gallery” would be better text to increase user comfort?

    – It also took me a second to realize that those tiny astrological symbols were actually menu links – I know a lot of people who probably would have taken even longer to figure them out! Have you considered putting the planet names beside/beneath the symbols? And since it’s a menu, could it maybe still appear even when a picture is open?

    – The dark-grey-on-black text does not show up at all on my monitor – I had to guess where the “Off” button was for the music, and I think there’s something written in the empty spaces in the image listings (for example, in what look to be seven empty spaces for most of the planets). Could the contrast be increased a little, please?

    – Finally, social networking sites are all the rage right now – what if I wanted to share one of those pictures through Facebook, for example? Adding something to make sharing easy that way could really help get the word out that your site has fantastic, jaw-dropping planet art!

    Can’t wait to see more pictures when available! Is there a mailing list I can join to let me know when new images go up? 😀


  20. kikilis

    The pic of Jupiter is very Europa-like….

  21. Dave

    @Kikilis: You noticed that too? :)

    I hope they have an actual Jupiter picture up there soon! Maybe of the recent impact? Great Red and Little Red? The possibilities are finite yet extensive!

  22. Rosvo

    Shame, that they don’t have the wallpapers that fit my screen.

  23. andy

    I really need to get back into doing some space art… managed to get fairly proficient with POV-Ray back in the day.

  24. Synopsis

    Ooooh that’s awesome, I love Greg’s work!

    Looks like I’ll have to check out some of the other artists too.

  25. Rob Glover

    A good starting set, and I don’t mind the flash personally. I love imaginative space art, I grew up with the legendary Chesley Bonestell’s books and later David Hardy. It makes your spirit soar.
    Look forward to more pictures, I’ve bookmarked that site now!

  26. I actually quite like the alchemical symbols for the planets. It’s a nice touch. Unfortunately if they do expand to include the Kuiper belt and such they won’t have any more symbols.


    And if you didn’t figure out that it’s the menu, then you don’t mouse-over nearly enough! A little curious wandering can go a long way 😉

  27. @21 Dave:

    Thanks for the feedback. The site will continue to evolve as thoughts such as these pour in. I’m an interaction designer by trade so I’m completely on-board at finding the balance between experience and usability. There are solutions out there that I have only yet to discover, thoughts such as these as a boon.

  28. Why would a scientist who likes proof, rational thought, Randi sort of stuff etc, (which is the idea), want to indulge in imaginary art?(art, see usual definition – emotional, illogical, non reality based), which incidently, shows space/astronomy objects or events but are not yet proven by science or otherwise, so probably not even true, and have as much scientific grounding as an astrologer suggesting that 34% of Scorpians will slip over a banana skin sometime tomorrow.

    Just for the record, I very much like both art and science.


  29. Nathaniel

    @30 Claire C Smith: Why do we do any of the things we do, for that matter? Who says empiricists can’t enjoy beauty in any form? Who says they don’t like things that provoke their imaginations or sense of wonder? I daresay that it’s *that* imagination of what could be that drives us to keep exploring what is.

  30. Nathaniel,

    “Who says empiricists can’t enjoy beauty in any form?”

    Absolutely true that they can for sure. I was thinking along the lines of – how difficult it is for certain areas from both sides to accept the other, to genuinley combine, which could be very rare, or if they already do, it might not be that apparent, they may not appear to.


  31. StevoR

    Awesome! 8)

    I Love it! 😀

    Thanks BA. I love space art generally but this is just superluminous – ie. beyond mere brilliance! :-)

    @ 2. Brock Says:

    … I wonder if they’ll add Pluto, or Sedna, or Ceres. Do dwarf planets not count?

    Don’t get me started … !

    I’ll just say they sure do to me & that, like many other astronomers, I still count Pluto & the other ice dwarf worlds as a planets and think the IAU definition got things very badly wrong. A mistake I hope and think they’ll correct one day – hopefully sooner rather than later.

    To me if an object in space is :

    a) Round or spheroidal anyway* through its own gravity.
    (Objects too small for this = asteroids & comets.)

    b) Not shining intrinsically from its own nuclear fusion.
    (Objects too large for this that *do* shine by nuclear fusion = stars & brown dwarfs)


    c) Not directly orbiting another planet. (ie. not a moon.)

    Then it should be called a planet.

    Anyway, I too hope they add Pluto and its moons, Eris, Sedna,Ceres and Haumea to their artworks. :-)

    * Fast spinning objects that would be round if they weren’t rapidly rotating eg. the stars Achenar, Regulus & Altair or, on a smaller scale, theice dwarf Haumea, still count as planets. Well not the B-A stars obviously! 😉

  32. StevoR-Correcting

    Correctin’ … Coz I ran out of editin’ time. Sigh. :-(

    “Achenar” should be spelt Achernar. Achernar’s Bayer designation is Alpha Eridani and this is apparently the flattest known star. Its a B3 type blue dwarf star located approx . 140 light years away – and despite that distance is the ninth brightest star in our night skies. It is also the hottest and thus bluest star in the top ten brightest stars ranked in apparent magnitude.* For more info. on it see :



    “theice dwraf Haumea” = the ice dwarf Haumea. Natch.

    * In case your’e curious & don’t already know :

    1. Sirius, 2. Canopus, 3. Alpha Centauri, 4. Arcturus, 5. Vega, 6. Capella, 7. Rigel, 8. Procyon, 9. Achernar & 10. Betelgeux.

    Apparent magnitude (mag) means (for those who don’t already know) the brightness as we see it from Earth as opposed to how bright stars *really* are which is called Absolute magnitude. (Mag with a capital ‘M’.) For instance, Sirius is actually relatively faint in Mag but is nearby.

  33. StevoR-Correcting

    Because I had go do something else … & then come back :

    Here’s those same top 10 apparent mag stars listed in their Absolute Mag (how bright they really are) order :

    1. Rigel (-7.1)
    2. Canopus (- 5.6)
    3. Betelguex (– 5.1 average, variable)
    4. Achernar (- 1.6)
    5. Arcturus (- 0.2)
    6. Capella (- 0.7)
    7. Vega (+ 0.5)
    8. Sirius (+ 1.4)
    9. Procyon (+ 2.6)
    10. Alpha Centauri (+ 4.3)

    Note with magnitude that the lower the number the brighter the star; with the very lowest and thus brightest numbers being negative.

    This means that if you placed all these stars at a distance of roughly 33 light years (the Absolute mag standard distance) Rigel at MINUS seven would outshine everything in the sky except (usually) our Moon. (-12 at full Moon btw & vs Venus which is -4.5 at brightest) Rigel at that distance would give off as much light as the lunar crescent but in a blindlingly, bright point source – and it would still twinkle. OTOH, Alpha Centauri would drop from being the third brightest star to being barely visible – a faint speck easily washed out by light pollution.

    Now, I expect that many of you reading here already know all this & I hope I’m not boring y’all but for those who don’t I thought this brief explanation and set of examples may be useful & interesting. I hope so anyhow! (Besides I like showing off! 😉 )


    PS. If anyone spots any errors here then please let me know. Also be aware that some sources do vary in their Mag figures based on differing distance estimates.

  34. Joanne Mullen

    Nice pictures, dreadful website.

  35. Flying sardines

    Nice pictures, yegods awesome pictures … but so few of them.

    So far anyhow.

    Just the one image for Mercury – and you can hardly see the planet so its more about the Sun instead. Just a single for Venus too. Earth gets only one too – and showing light pollution, albeit beuatiful light pollution, at that. Europa under the ice ocean for Jupiter as Jove’s only portrait – nice but hardly representative of the actual gas giant. Only a couple of Saturn for pity’s sake, one of Ouranos, two of Neptune, none of anything else.

    You’ve wet my appetite here – but left me hungry for a lot more and going away thinking “Holy Flying Sphagheeti Monster! I hope you update this soon & have a lot more than you’ve got so far.”

    How long has it taken already did you say for you to get so may “Coming soon” blank boxes?

    Don’t get me wrong -I like the idea & love the artworks but I want more .. & when do I want it:


    (Impatient blighter ain’t I? 😉 )

  36. Flying sardines

    For what its worth my three faves there are :

    1. Saturn’s rings as used at the top here. Really you just can’t go past Saturn for spectacle and outright wondrous beauty.

    2. Mercury and the Sun. Bright. Very.
    … And impressive.

    3. Neptune’s skies from the inside; ethereal, quiet, yet gale force storm a-blowin’.. Something about that … just … wow.

    And finally thankyou to the artists. Really thankyou. :-)

    I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in what I said in # 37 & I do just find what they have got on there so far to be marvellous and thought-provoking so thumbs up.

    I just wish there was more there already. :-)

  37. Quiet Desperation

    Why would a scientist who likes proof, rational thought, Randi sort of stuff etc, (which is the idea), want to indulge in imaginary art?

    (blank stare)

    I’m sorry, what?

  38. hello Quiet Desperation,

    Your comment:

    “(blank stare)”

    Thanks for the info!

    “I’m sorry,”

    No need to apologise.


    The quote you refer to generally means, it was interesting to read about a rational scientist being interested in, or to post about an unempiricial subject such as art.


  39. To Mr. Siegburg and Experience the Planets: Our solar system has more than eight planets. Please do it justice and add Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

  40. Torbjörn Larsson, OM


    the official party line.

    I’ve noticed that the 2^3 planet party plies an even bargain, while the party of 3^2 is decidedly odd.

    That’s my official line, anyway.

  41. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:

    … I’ve noticed that the 2^3 planet party plies an even bargain, while the party of 3^2 is decidedly odd. …

    Huh? I don’t get what you are trying to say there at all. Can you please elaborate?

  42. Plutonium

    @ 41. Laurel Kornfeld Says:

    To Mr. Siegburg and Experience the Planets: Our solar system has more than eight planets. Please do it justice and add Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

    Seconded by me.

    (Plutonium being from Pluto)

  43. Is it just me or can others still not find the well hidden download links for this beautiful wallpaper?

  44. NOT impressed. They’re re-inventing the wheel. 25 years ago, a similar “project” was created, the IAAA a space art guild encompassing most of the finest space artists on the planet, and yes, we ‘got around’ to Pluto many times. Old news. The only difference is now, much is done digitally. Then, we only had paint and canvas and talent.

    Carolyn Porco of Cassini Imaging is a member.

    Kim Poor

  45. Marcus

    Poor Kim – face it – you just can’t get over the fact we live in 3rd millenium :)

  46. Get off my lawn!



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