Dark sky: Aesthetics of the extraterrestrial landscape

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One consequence of the exploration of the solar system is the accumulating body of images of the surfaces of planets, comets, moons, and asteroids. These images are landscapes, although the land they represent may be quite unlike Earth. Extraterrestrial landscapes may incorporate conventions of representation that provide a familiar grounding for the viewer. However, images of alien landscapes also break some of those conventions and force us to consider the nature of landscape itself. The presence of artistic conventions in the pictures of non–terrestrial landscapes taken during missions to various bodies in the Solar System suggest a counterpart in the history of earthly landscape images. Conventionalizations in these images may be the consequence of imager design, processing, and editing of images that converge around or mimic representational norms found in pictorial images of terrestrial subjects. Deviations from the norms of terrestrial representation may constitute the emergence of an aesthetics of mediation, which may be the result of the unique conditions found on the body itself or the result of human intervention in the imaging process. “Normalized” views of extraterrestrial landscapes simulate a human viewpoint in color or perspective, but certain aspects of imaging technology, and associated science goals, dissociate the earth–bound viewer from the unearthly terrain.

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Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry

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4 Special issue



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