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Erik Wernquist’s “Wanderers” is a Beautifully Realistic Future of Space Exploration

If you’ve ever dreamed about what it might be like to explore the furthest reaches of the Solar System, filmmaker Erik Wernquist just brought that vision to life. His short film called Wanderers is, as Wernquist says on his website, a “vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like.” It’s breathtaking, in no small thanks to the masterful use of Carl Sagan’s reading of his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot.

Seriously, this might even be better than Interstellar (turn the volume up and go full-screen, trust me):

The most striking thing about the film is that the locations it shows are all real places in the Solar System. The landscapes might belong to distant worlds, but a lot of them are familiar. A side by side comparison — shots from Wernquist on the left and images from NASA on the right — show just how brilliantly realistic his vision is.

This scene shows Ligeia Mare, the second largest known body of liquid on the second largest moon in the Solar System, Saturn’s moon Titan. Filled with liquid hydrocarbons like ethane and methane rather than water like an Earthly ocean, Ligeia Mare sits in Titan’s north polar region. The false color image on the right is Ligeia Mare as seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft between February 2006 and April 2007.


Another shot from the Saturnian system shows a series of settlements built along the Iapetus ridge, a prominent geologic feature that runs along a large portion of Saturn’s moon Iapetus’ circumference. This massive ridge wasn’t discovered until 2004 when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a class pass by this moon on September 10. The unprocessed image shows the ridge as it is.


Still in the Saturnian system, Wernquist shows a spacecraft moving through the geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. This is another feature we didn’t discover until the Cassini spacecraft made its close pass by this moon in 2005. And again, Wernquist’s image is wonderfully close to the real thing. The plumes spray water ice and vapor from multiple spots along the “tiger stripes” — the roughly 84-mile long features that cross the moon’s southern pole.


In one Maritan scene, Wernquist shows human explorers watching a blue sunset on Mars. The original image was taken on May 19, 2005, by NASA’s Spirit rover. Spirit stayed awake a little longer than normal that day (properly sol 489) to capture the Sun setting below the rim of Gusev crater using its panoramic camera. The images that were combined to make this mosaic were taken around 6:07 in the evening, giving us a stunning look at twilight on Mars.


Another Martian vista shows Cape Verde, a geologically rich outcrop that is teaching scientists about Victoria crater, a crater scientists suspect is located in the middle of what used to be an ancient sand dune field. This image taken by NASA’s Opportunity rover shows a 20-foot high cliff face of the Cape Verde promontory taken from inside Victoria Crater (The images that make up this mosaic were taken on sols 1342 and 1356, November 2 and 17, 2007.)


Perhaps the most incredible shot in Wernquist’s film is one of humans base-jumping off the tallest known cliff in the Solar System: Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda. We don’t know a lot about this feature on Miranda because we’ve only visited Uranus once. Voyager 2 flew near to the moon on January 24, 1986, and snapped this narrow-angle image of Miranda’s highly varied surface. This image shows the moon’s ridges and valleys that were likely created by compressional tectonics; they are crossed by faults. The fault in this images might be as high as three miles, making it higher than the walls of the Grand Canyon.


That Wernquist uses real places and recognizable scenes in this short film makes the prospect of exploring our cosmic backyard feel that much more exciting and tangible. We’re halfway there with robots; every place shown in the film is somewhere we’ve been. Now we just need to follow in those robotic footsteps.

Feature image via Wernquist. All other image, left via Wernquist, right via NASA/JPL.



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  1. This is putting me in the mood to re-read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars series. Most of these locations are featured in those books, including the vast cliffs and canyons of Miranda.