Art & the Cosmic Connection

Elements of Art Inspire Planetary Image Analysis

Art & the Cosmic Connection is an interdisciplinary program developed by scientists, artists & educators to encourage learners to explore the mysterious worlds in our solar system and their geologic stories.

The planets, moons and small bodies of our solar system are places of wonder and intrigue. NASA spacecraft are visiting these fascinating places, capturing images of otherworldly features that just beg to be explored!

What do these captivating images tell us? In just a short time, with the tools provided in this program, learners of all ages can begin to understand and interpret the features on distant objects in our solar system.

  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
  • student working on art project
          Slide the gray bar to scroll through the images, and click on each image square for more details.

The Activity

Art & the Cosmic Connection is designed to engage students in space science education by becoming artist explorers. Using the elements of art – line, color, texture, shape, and value – students learn to analyze the mysterious surfaces of our rocky celestial neighbors - planets, moons, comets and asteroids – as well as our beautiful Earth.

Fusing art and science education inspires students to explore both disciplines. Students create art inspired by planetary images, and their understanding of planet surfaces deepens when observing them through an artist’s lens.

The program includes:

Educator Guide that is standards aligned and explains how to teach the activity

PowerPoint Presentation uses beautiful NASA images to illustrate the concepts

Presentation Notes is the PowerPoint Presentation in pdf format for printing and using as you go through the slides

Space and Earth Images for the pastel art activity where students draw their own interpretation of an image

(NOTE: These are large files and take time to download – please be patient!)

The program is scalable for grades K through college and is adaptable for formal and informal education programs. Art & the Cosmic Connection can enhance Earth science curriculum or have a specific focus such as Mars or moons. Feel free to modify the PowerPoint presentation to meet your needs.

solar system images

Interactive Poster

Poster Front Ella_collage Audrey collage Miranda_collage Anise collage Jennifer_collage Nina_collage Katie_collage Owen collage Kathleen_collage Olwyn_collage Quinn_collage Ana_collage

Click on each square to see the original NASA image depicted in the drawing and the student artist/explorer who drew it.
- Front Poster (11 x 14 PDF)

student working on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Click on each section below to learn about how the elements of art help make sense of the surface geology of distant worlds in our solar system.
- Back Poster (11 x 14 PDF)
- Print out separate panels (8 x 11 PDF)

Poster Back shapes on a planetary images colorized planetary image blobs, volcanoes and lakes planetary images contrast of light and dark planetary images straight lines and tectonics planetary images shapes on a planetary image description of Art & Cosmic Connection program elements of art reveal planetary surfaces art and science education acknowledgements for poster artwork

The Videos - Cosmic Art in Action

The developers of the Art & The Cosmic Connection activity, Monica & Tyler Aiello, recognize that both artists and scientists are keen observers of the natural world and engage in creative problem solving. The three videos below introduce students to the process of using the elements of art to understand and analyze beautiful NASA images from space.

Monica, a planetary artist and educator, and Tyler, a sculptor with an architecture background, dedicate considerable time to educational programming, working with students of all ages in schools, museums, afterschool programs and camps.

Videos: Tips and Techniques for Using Pastels

student working on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Getting Started

student working on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Blocking Your Composition

student working on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Making It Pop

Videos: Cosmic Art in Action featuring students at the Denver School of the Arts

student exploring surface features on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Exploring Surface Features

student working on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Adventures In Color

student working with complex lines on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Interesting Complex Lines

Educator and student examining layering on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Layering Adds Rhythm

student working with dimension in art on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Value Creates Dimension

Educator and student discussing contrasts in texture on Art & Cosmic Connection activity

Contrasts In Texture

Student Art Gallery

student artwork image collage

Art & the Cosmic Connection inspires people of all ages to make beautiful art while learning more about the solar system. Nearly 100 students at the Denver School of the Arts participated in a NASA workshop in early 2013 that introduced them to Art & the Cosmic Connection. The drawings on the INTERACTIVE POSTER were created by some of these students.

Students – Share Your Cosmic Art!

We invite you to send us your drawing of one of these intriguing rocky solar system objects. Tell us which NASA image inspired you – is it a planet, moon, asteroid or comet? Describe which interesting features you focused on and why you chose the colors you used. Take a photo of your drawing or scan it and send it to us.

Submit Your Artwork >


These video presentations from recent workshops feature the art activity and an overview of some of NASA’s very cool missions that are exploring our solar system.

Monica Aiello  Art, Science and the Cosmic Connection
Monica Aiello

- Watch Video (YouTube) - See Presentation (PDF)

Shari Asplund  The Challenge of Discovery: Discovery & New Frontiers Programs
Shari Asplund

Discovery and New Frontiers Programs Education and Outreach Manager
- Watch video (YouTube) - See presentation (PDF)

Dr. Nancy Chabot  MESSENGER: What are we learning at Mercury?
Dr. Nancy Chabot

Instrument Scientist for Mercury Dual Imaging System
- Watch Video (YouTube) - See presentation (PDF)

Ralph McNutt  New Horizons Mission to Pluto
Dr. Ralph McNutt

Principal Investigator on New Horizons Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI)
- Watch video (YouTube) - See presentation (PDF)