Four hundred years ago, stargazing was practically illegal. The Roman Inquisition sentenced Galileo for supporting Copernican astronomy, and most people still believed the Earth was flat.

Fortunately, science has since come a long way, and now, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena has made space exploration a viable industry in Southern California — on par with film, television, improv and bikini waxing. Today, we're still welcome to join the Flat Earth Society, but most of us accept the fact that we're not the center of the universe, with the exception of the Scientologists, perhaps.

As a celebration of our achievements in the field of space exploration, the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design presents “The History of Space Photography” — one in a series of exhibitions that examines the nexus of art, science, history and literature. On view through May 6, the show features 150 images that chronicle the advancement of extraterrestrial picture-taking, from black-and-white images of the moon to incredibly detailed digital photos of galaxies outside our solar system.

In the words of none other than Leonard Nimoy, aka Star Trek's Mr. Spock: “If millions of people will contemplate the images in 'The History of Space Photography,' perhaps for a moment, politics can take a rest and compassion, social justice, the dignity of humankind can be advanced an inch.”

With this in mind, check out our mini-collection of photos from “The History of Space Photography,” with insights from the exhibition's guest curator, Jay Belloli.

10. David Gill, photograph of Great Comet of 1882, November 14, 1882 (Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa)

“Since the dawn of human consciousness, our species has been staring in wonder at the cosmos. Early civilizations performed naked-eye observations of the night sky, and thus astronomy — the oldest natural science — was born.” –Jay Belloli, exhibition curator

9. Representative color photograph taken of the sun by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on March 30, 2010

“This exhibition presents the extraordinary variety of astronomical photographs that have been created from the early 19th century through the present, including key historical 19th, 20th and 21st century astronomical photographs; images of our earth from space; images of our solar system and images of stars, our Milky Way galaxy and the universe beyond.”

8. Entire surface of Venus from Magellan, orbit August 10, 1990-October 12, 1994 (JPL)

“The space photographs I tried to include in the exhibition have images that are so visually interesting that they lead you to read the absorbing scientific information in the labels.”

7. High phase angle Saturn image which has Earth visible in its rings, Cassini, September 15, 2006 (JPL)

“Space photography has changed greatly over the past almost 175 years. These alterations have occurred because of the increasing power of telescopes — both land-based telescopes and, near the end of the last century, space telescopes.”

6. The Helix Nebula from the Spitzer Space Telescope, February 12, 2007

“These changes have also occurred because of expanding photographic technology and — with the development of spacecrafts in the 1960s — rapidly improving digital technology.”

5. Opposing jets from supermassive black hole in galaxy Centaurus A by Chandra Space Telescope, 2008

“As technologies have advanced, astronomers not only can view celestial objects in great detail in visible light, but also in a large number of different light wavelengths beyond what our eyes can see, from X-rays to radio waves.”

4. Dust clouds in center of Reflection Nebula NGC 1333, Kitt Peak National Observatory

“Light outside the visible spectrum — like radar, infrared, ultraviolet and X-rays — has given us information about our earth, the solar system and the universe that otherwise would have been unavailable to us.”

3. Photograph of farthest away and oldest galaxies, including one 12.8 billion light-years away from Hubble Ultra Deep Field and Spitzer Space Telescope, 2007

“We have also progressed from ground-based telescopic photographs, to moving off of the earth to produce space-based digital images.”

2. Earth taken from Apollo 17, 1972

“This in turn has allowed us to look back at ourselves and see this remarkable small blue world orbiting a relatively small yellow star.”

1. On May 24, 2010, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this false-color, high-resolution view of the very tip of the Mississippi River Delta

“As a result, we are learning more and more about our place in the solar system, and indeed, our place in the universe itself.”

Tanja M. Laden manages Flavorpill Los Angeles and blogs at Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @PopCuriousMag and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.

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