Space has captivated humans since the beginning of our history. We have used the heavens for everything from earth bound navigation to poetic inspiration. Space is always there, and it is huge, so it is no wonder it has played such a major role in the cultures of humanity. That impact continues today with the recent announcement of an asteroid mining endeavor by Planetary Resources. As a celebration of humanity making this huge step, here’s a list of 22 visualizations showing different aspects of that vast expanse above us all.
1. Before we ever left planet Earth, we looked to the stars. They helped provide us with navigation and inspired stories of creation and origin. This importance is visible in what is perhaps the earliest visualization ever, a pre-historic star map in a cave in Lascaux, France.
2. As cultures advanced technologically, star maps became more sophisticated. Chinese astronomer Su Song created this star map in 1092 for his book on a new clock design.
3. Eventually, we built things that could fly! As aviation progressed, we flew higher and higher, with the eventual creation of rockets capable of putting things into orbit around the planet. But before we got there, we went through all the levels of Earth’s Atmosphere.
4. As our technology continued to advance, we got better looks at the objects up there. We realized there were planets, and after a tough beginning and some oppression by the church, realized the Sun was at the center of our group of planets. It wasn’t until later that we got better pictures and learned how far away these things were, and how big they actually were. OMG Space shows all of this information to scale.
5. Eventually we sent things out into space, and they brought back floods of information about what was out there. This flood continues to accelerate today, however in the beginning we were lucky to get just a single image back. The first up-close image of Mars was sent bit by bit, and rather than waiting on a computer to process the data, the engineers in the lab drew the image out by hand.
6. Since then, we have gotten much much better at capturing images of celestial bodies. This image of the moon uses a portion of the best topographic data we have ever collected about the moon. (Unfortunately it uses a rainbow color scale.)
7. We have also learned a lot about the stars that light up our night sky. Journey of a Star shows the stages that a star goes through as it is born, burns bright, and eventually dies.
8. Our view of the universe continues to expand. We have more telescopes pointed skyward than ever before. Combined with automated computerized methods for extracting data from all those images, our view of the universe is getting better — and that, too, is happening faster than ever. The Data Centric Universe does a great job of showing these changes over time.
9. For a more detailed current view of the universe, The Known Universe gives a great depiction of the scale of it all.
10. Asteroid detection is important to ensuring our safety on earth, and recently the detection rate has exploded. Asteroid Discovery from 1980 to 2011 shows this explosion.
11. The really important asteroids to watch, though, are the close ones. Near Earth Objects highlights some of the biggest and closest of these.
12. As we put things into space, we began thinking about communicating with other potential beings in the universe. In order to do this, a visual language makes a lot of sense. Sight as a sense is a likely method that other beings would have, so a visual language may be one of the best methods of communication. The Arecibo Message was sent out as a signal intended to be turned into an image.
13. We have also sent physical visualizations into space. The Pioneer Plaque shows images of a male and female human, and where our planet is in relation to the rest of the planets in our solar system.
14. On the Voyager Spacecrafts, recordings of Earth sounds were sent into space as well. A record cover was designed to describe how to play the record, as well as some information about where Earth is located.
15. The spacecraft that have taken us to space and brought back so much valuable information are amazing feats of engineering themselves. Project Mercury covers the incredibly cramped quarters of one of the earliest space vehicles.
16. We all know and love the space shuttle, and although it is sad to see it retired, Fun Facts About The Space Shuttle Orbiter can help us to remember it nostalgically.
17. The Mars Science Laboratory is a rover for looking for and assessing the potential for Mars to sustain life. Although the rover hasn’t arrived yet, it is on its way, scheduled to land in August 2012!
18. The most iconic space exploration event ever was Apollo 11, the first time humans ever set foot on the Moon. The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Visualization pulls together most of the information surrounding the event into a single visualization.
19. Once Aldrin and Armstrong landed, they walked and drove around collecting samples and exploring. They were limited to a fairly small size due to the clumsiness of their space suits and oxygen supply. This Apollo 11 Landing Site map puts the whole excursion into scale.
20. We have had a long history of launching things into space by now, and the political drivers behind this have definitely been important. Space Launches looks at how each country around the world has fared when it comes to putting things up there.
21. And to see where all of these things went, Fifty Years of Exploration shows a map of the destinations of many of these launches.
22. Last but not least, we as a species have a pattern of polluting everywhere we go. Space is no exception. We have left behind a lot of stuff up there. Space the Final Junkyard shows just how dangerous all this stuff can be, and where it is.