8 Wonders of the Solar System, art by Ron Miller

When it comes to science fiction, fantasty, and space art, Ron Miller is an artist's artist. Before becoming a freelance illustrator (and Hugo-nominated book author), Miller was art director for the National Air & Space Museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium. Along with doing book and magazine illustrations, he's also created production art for films like Dune and Total Recall, and designed stamps for the US Postal Service. Recently, Scientific American commissioned art from Miller to illustrate their new online feature, "8 Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive." The multimedia feature explores the likes of Jupiter's Red Spot, the Geysers of Enceladus, the sunrise on Mercury, and, of course, Saturn's rings. Here's the caption for the image above, depicting Valles Marineris on Mars:
People have been known to fall to their knees and weep at the sight of Arizona's Grand Canyon. One wonders what the first traveler to the Mariner Valley will do when gazing into this canyon. At almost four miles deep and so wide that in some places you would have to strain to see the other side, this gigantic tectonic crack would span the U.S. from New York to California--a quarter of the way around the planet--so that sunrise at one end happens six or so hours before sunrise at the other. Water once ran through large segments of this expanse. In this image the traveler views an icy mist filling the valley as the suns sets over the north rim.
"8 Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive"


  1. Have you heard of Chesley Bonestall? He was an artist who imagined different sites in the Solar System in a book with Wiley Ley providing the text. It came out in the 1950s. Many who went into the space program were inspired by that book. Several of his paintings are in the aerospace museum in Washington. He did the title graphics showing Mars in the original War of the Worlds. When the Pioneer first flew past Jupiter the scientists from Ames brought him for his home in the Santa Cruz mountains to see the images. He lived into his 90s and got to compare his paintings to the real thing.

  2. I thought of Chesley Bonestall before I finished reading the first sentence. Absolutely one of the greats.

  3. Sadly if you check out the art encyclopedias or the biographical dictionaries of artists you won’t find Bonestalls name. Says a lot about the constipated mental state of the gate keepers of art.

    1. Agreed – illustrators ought to be more illustrious, IMHO.
      But over time people – the critics, that is – usually come around (even if only grudgingly). Sadly, that usually occurs after the artist’s passing. There are exceptions: Frank Frazetta’s star, for eg, seems to be on the rise: although IMO that respect is coming rather late, and Mr Frazetta’s getting on, too.

      Perhaps the “Fine artists” feel that since these “illustrating guys ‘n’ gals” (the ones who rise to some notice, any way) are actually earning monetary payment, they need not receive any critical accolades or attention or publicity, on top of their commercial success.

      I dunno: for me, commercial success for an artist does count.
      But I am not really sure in which tally it should so count.
      Is commercial success of a person’s art always a true indicator of the worth of the art? Is the presence of, or lack of, such success ever a valid aesthetic critique? Or is such a reflection of the society around the artist, rather than of any thing inherent in the art object itself?

      My answer always seems to hinge on something unique to the particular artist and society under consideration: a general principle on this point, applicable in all (or even most) cases, has eluded me.

      And I can’t even judge whether or not that’s important.

    1. Earth feature for nomination? That’s an easy one: Our Oceans. Nothing really like them anywhere else. Sure there’s methane clouds and what not, but H2O oceans? I’m pretty sure we’re unique in that regard.

  4. I suspect that the first people to stand and see Valles Marineris (and Olympus Mons) will think, more or less: holy shit.

    Mars will be real for those who make it their home.

  5. Woot for Terragen! I’m almost 100% sure the Mars picture was done using it, and possibly a few others for the terrain generation. Amazing paintings, too.

    1. @ elix…
      It probably is. I know that Ron and Bill Hartmann were experimenting with digital media prior to their release of the latest edition of “Grand Tour”; it features prominently throughout, in fact. Many folks in the IAAA (International Association of Astronomical Artists) had been messing with it for years, and I started playing with it myself around late 2003. Not a plug for the software, but it is great software, handy in a pinch (especially when you have to throw out some art depicting the surface of, say, Europa, you have your boss breathing down your neck, your Paasche is on the fritz…).
      I still prefer more traditional media, but nothing beats Terragen for fast, very realistic rendering.

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