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August 10, 2012

Images of Curiosity

Screen shot 2012 08 09 at 11 23 59 PM

Seeing the first pictures of Curiosity touching down on Mars, I was reminded of another landscape photo that drew a lot of press this week. It’s a picture that is literally famous for being famous. As wallpaper for Windows XP, this photoblog claimed the image has now been seen over a billion times.

On the one hand, it’s profoundly generic, giving us a verdant hillside  lit up by the sun. The balance of two primary colors lends a sparse, but an essential quality, as if all life can be broken down into simple binaries. A patchwork of clouds does lend more variety complexity, but anything more intense is relegated to the far off distance. And, taken in Napa, it’s sort of a clever, subliminal advertisement for an idealized California dream, mixing nature at your backdoor with the fertility of Silicon Valley.


Perhaps the photo, though, is more of an anesthetic, as reflective of life and culture today as, well, Microsoft. As more images come in from Mars, filling up screens and racking up page views, it seems NASA couldn’t have come up with a better name than Curiosity.

(photo 1: Microsoft photo 2: NASA/JPL caption: The first photos from the Mars rover Curiosity and the scene inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, where the mission is monitored.)

  • BooksAlive

    As the JPL engineers and scientists explained, color photos will make Martian geology more understandable to novices  Amusing to listen to them describe the process of downloading, reminding us they don’t have the camera and memory card in their hands.

  • black_dog_barking

    Much of internet-based communications can be described in terms of RGB, relative weightings of red, green, and blue primary colors that combine to form the colors that appear on our display screens. That Microsoft image stands out for it’s total red-less-ness. Mars, on the other hand, is nearly all red to our pre-internet pre-Curiosity eye, the Red Planet.

  • Opalesce

    The Mars shot looks perhaps like a psychic snapshot of what we’d be feeling if there had been a mishap upon takeoff which let loose the 10 pounds of plutonium on board.  

    We’d be wishing for the vision depicted in the Windows screensaver, reminding us of all previous Mars’ rovers which were powered by solar panels.

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