The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology created 14 posters that are free to the public to download, print and hang. Called “Visions of the Future, the series pulls in a vintage feel with fonts and designs but also projects into the future by featuring potential planets for tourism, including exotic exoplanets — planets that orbit other stars. Nine artists, designers and illustrators, dubbed “The Studio” at JPL, created the posters with feedback from NASA scientists and engineers. Check out the stories behind each poster and then download the high resolution copies, which are sized 20×30 — perfect poster size.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance health and science journalist for regional and national publications. She writes the Escape Artist column for Paste Travel, On the Mind column for Paste Science and Stress Test column for Paste Health.
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Solar System Grand Tour
What NASA says: NASA's Voyager mission took advantage of a once-every-175-year alignment of the outer planets for a grand tour of the solar system. The twin spacecraft revealed details about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – using each planet's gravity to send them on to the next destination. Voyager set the stage for such ambitious orbiter missions as Galileo to Jupiter and Cassini to Saturn. Today both Voyager spacecraft continue to return valuable science from the far reaches of our solar system.
What the designers say: The Grand Tour is the route the Voyager 2 spacecraft took to visit all four outer planets. We imagined this would be something people might want to repeat, since it's a flight plan that's possible every 175 years or so, when the outer planets are arranged just right. In the future, it might be considered "quaint" to experience a gravity assist. Style-wise, the design came from some references we looked at from transparency overlays from the 1960s. It initially had a black background, but we inverted it and the design just clicked.
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What NASA says: The rare science opportunity of planetary transits has long inspired bold voyages to exotic vantage points – journeys such as James Cook's trek to the South Pacific to watch Venus and Mercury cross the face of the Sun in 1769. Spacecraft now allow us the luxury to study these cosmic crossings at times of our choosing from unique locales across our solar system.
What the designers say: We tried a few different designs for Venus, starting with the surface, but the intent was to show things people might find pleasant, and Venus' surface is anything but. The scene is of a city in the clouds during a transit of Mercury across the sun. The Morse code for the number 9 is written on the side (signifying the inhabitants are "on cloud 9").
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What NASA says: NASA's Mars Exploration Program seeks to understand whether Mars was, is, or can be a habitable world. Mission like Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Science Laboratory and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, among many others, have provided important information in understanding of the habitability of Mars. This poster imagines a future day when we have achieved our vision of human exploration of Mars and takes a nostalgic look back at the great imagined milestones of Mars exploration that will someday be celebrated as "historic sites."
What the designers say: This was the very last poster we produced for the series. We wanted to imagine a future time where humans are on Mars, and their history would revere the robotic pioneers that came first. There are a few fun things to point out here. You can see the silhouette of Olympus Mons in the background, there's a hint of underground water, and the rover's wheel is spelling out JPL on the ground in Morse code, just like the Curiosity rover does (for what the rover drivers call "visual odometry.")
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What NASA says: The Jovian cloudscape boasts the most spectacular light show in the solar system, with northern and southern lights to dazzle even the most jaded space traveler. Jupiter's auroras are hundreds of times more powerful than Earth's, and they form a glowing ring around each pole that's bigger than our home planet. Revolving outside this auroral oval are the glowing, electric "footprints" of Jupiter's three largest moons. NASA's Juno mission will observe Jupiter's auroras from above the polar regions, studying them in a way never before possible.
What the designers say: The basis for this poster was a Jupiter cloudscape by artist Ron Miller, who was very gracious in allowing us to modify his painting. In talking with a lead scientist on NASA's Juno mission (which is getting to Jupiter in July), we locked onto his description of the brilliant auroras Jupiter has. It would truly be a sight to see.
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What NASA says: Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA's Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan's perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon.
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What NASA says: Discovered in October 2013 using direct imaging, PSO J318.5-22 belongs to a special class of planets called rogue, or free-floating, planets. Wandering alone in the galaxy, they do not orbit a parent star. Not much is known about how these planets come to exist, but scientists theorize that they may be either failed stars or planets ejected from very young systems after an encounter with another planet. These rogue planets glow faintly from the heat of their formation. Once they cool down, they will be dancing in the dark.
What the designers say: This design fell right out of the tagline, "where the nightlife never ends," which was perfect for a wandering planet that has no star. We wanted to evoke a sense of elegance, so we leaned heavily on 1930s art deco for this one. It's sort of retro-future fantasy, but again, there's a bit of real science inspiring it.
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51 Pegasi b
What NASA says: While there is much debate over which exoplanet discovery is considered the "first," one stands out from the rest. In 1995, scientists discovered 51 Pegasi b, forever changing the way we see the universe and our place in it. The exoplanet is about half the mass of Jupiter, with a seemingly impossible, star-hugging orbit of only 4.2 Earth days. Not only was it the first planet confirmed to orbit a sun-like star, it also ushered in a whole new class of planets called Hot Jupiters: hot, massive planets orbiting closer to their stars than Mercury. Today, powerful observatories like NASA's Kepler space telescope will continue the hunt of distant planets.
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What NASA says: Kepler-186f is the first Earth-size planet discovered in the potentially 'habitable zone' around another star, where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. Its star is much cooler and redder than our Sun. If plant life does exist on a planet like Kepler-186f, its photosynthesis could have been influenced by the star's red-wavelength photons, making for a color palette that's very different than the greens on Earth. This discovery was made by Kepler, NASA's planet hunting telescope.
What the designers say: The concept here was about how plants might be very different colors on planets around other stars, since the star's spectrum of light would be different. So we played on an old saying, with "the grass is always redder on the other side of the fence." There's whimsy in the design, making people wonder why there would be this white picket fence on an alien planet.
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What NASA says: Like Luke Skywalker's planet "Tatooine" in Star Wars, Kepler-16b orbits a pair of stars. Depicted here as a terrestrial planet, Kepler-16b might also be a gas giant like Saturn. Prospects for life on this unusual world aren't good, as it has a temperature similar to that of dry ice. But the discovery indicates that the movie's iconic double-sunset is anything but science fiction.
What the designers say: This was the first poster we designed in the series. The concept was really clear from the very beginning and set the tone for everything that came after. When we showed it to the scientists, the only thing they wanted us to tweak was to make the color of one of the stars (and the shadow it casts) different from the other star.
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What NASA says: Twice as big in volume as the Earth, HD 40307g straddles the line between "Super-Earth" and "mini-Neptune" and scientists aren't sure if it has a rocky surface or one that's buried beneath thick layers of gas and ice. One thing is certain though: at eight times the Earth's mass, its gravitational pull is much, much stronger.
What the designers say: As we discussed ideas for a poster about super Earths — bigger planets, more massive, with more gravity — we asked, "Why would that be a cool place to visit?" We saw an ad for people jumping off mountains in the Alps wearing squirrel suits, and it hit us that this could be a planet for thrill-seekers.