NASA Releases Images of Earth by Distant Spacecraft
July 22, 2013
PASADENA, Calif. — Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft on July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet.
In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots — Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.
It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.
"We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth."
Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun. A camera’s sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same. Cassini was able to take this image because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view and most of the light was blocked.
A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn’s rings, which scientists are assembling. This image is not expected to be available for several weeks because of the time-consuming challenges involved in blending images taken in changing geometry and at vastly different light levels, with faint and extraordinarily bright targets side by side.
"It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “The whole event underscores for me our ‘coming of age’ as planetary explorers."
In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel, but appear very large because they are overexposed. Long exposures are required to capture as much light as possible from potentially dim objects. Consequently, bright objects in the field of view become saturated and appear artificially large.
"That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation’s stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. “And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There’s no place like home."
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built MESSENGER, a spacecraft developed under NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL and APL manage their respective missions for NASA. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.
More information about the picture and the Wave at Saturn campaign is available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/waveatsaturn .
To view the MESSENGER images, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/16Vnt5G .
Astronaut Karen Nyberg washes her hair in zero G aboard the International Space Station.
My attraction to brains and big hair have led me to a confession: I’m in lust with an astronaut.
If the Texas GOP has its way, one clinic where women can choose abortion will serve this whole area.
Nighttime Image of Texas Cities
One of the Expedition 36 crew members aboard the International Space Station, some 240 miles above Earth, used a 50mm lens to record this oblique nighttime image of a large part of the nation’s second largest state in area, including the four largest metropolitan areas in population. The extent of the metropolitan areas is easily visible at night due to city and highway lights.
The largest metro area, Dallas-Fort Worth, often referred to informally as the Metroplex, is the heavily cloud-covered area at the top center of the photo. Neighboring Oklahoma, on the north side of the Red River, less than 100 miles to the north of the Metroplex, appears to be experiencing thunderstorms. The Houston metropolitan area, including the coastal city of Galveston, is at lower right. To the east near the Texas border with Louisiana, the metropolitan area of Beaumont-Port Arthur appears as a smaller blotch of light, also hugging the coast of the Texas Gulf. Moving inland to the left side of the picture one can delineate the San Antonio metro area. The capital city of Austin can be seen to the northeast of San Antonio.
Image Credit: NASA
Pavlof Volcano From Station
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) photographed this striking view of Pavlof Volcano on May 18, 2013. The oblique perspective from the ISS reveals the three dimensional structure of the ash plume, which is often obscured by the top-down view of most remote sensing satellites.
Situated in the Aleutian Arc about 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, Pavlof began erupting on May 13, 2013. The volcano jetted lava into the air and spewed an ash cloud 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) high. When photograph ISS036-E-2105 (top) was taken, the space station was about 475 miles south-southeast of the volcano (49.1° North latitude, 157.4° West longitude). The volcanic plume extended southeastward over the North Pacific Ocean.
› Additional information/larger images.
Image Credit: NASA
I don’t know why this rings a bell…
LAGEOS I, 1976
The LAGEOS I, Laser Geodynamics Satellite, was launched on May 4, 1976 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The two-foot diameter, 900-pound satellite orbited the Earth from pole to pole and measured the movements of the Earth’s surface relative to earthquakes, continental drift, and other geophysical phenomena.
The mirrored surface of the satellite precisely reflected laser beams from ground stations for accurate ranging measurements. Scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. came up with the idea for the satellite and built it at the Marshall Center.
Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
Of course NASA launched Earth’s disco ball in 1976.
Of course they did.
Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who has been living aboard the International Space Station since December, on Saturday tweeted another stunning photo of the Windy City from above.
Holy crap, it’s a beautiful night in Chicago!
Powerful Nor’easter Coming Together
A massive winter storm is coming together as two low pressure systems are merging over the U.S. East Coast. A satellite image from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite on Feb. 8 shows a western frontal system approaching the coastal low pressure area.
The satellite image, captured at 9:01 a.m. EST, shows clouds associated with the western frontal system stretching from Canada through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, into the Gulf of Mexico. The comma-shaped low pressure system located over the Atlantic, east of Virginia, is forecast to merge with the front and create a powerful nor’easter. The National Weather Service expects the merged storm to move northeast and drop between two to three feet of snow in parts of New England.
This is one of my favorite space pictures.
NASA pointed the Hubble telescope at a tiny area of dark, apparently starless space for 48 hours and found out that it is JAM-PACKED with galaxies.
I haven’t heard much from the Hubble Space Telescope folks since it was refurbished earlier in the year. Maybe that’s because they’ve been busily working on putting together an incredible image, the deepest ever taken in the near infrared. Feast upon this.
[Oh yes, you want to click to embiggen that, or grab yourself a gorgeous
4.6 Mpixel version.]
Holy Haleakala! This picture is incredible. They pointed Hubble at a fairly empty region of space, one where very few stars are seen. Then they unleashed the new Wide Field Camera 3 (called WFC3 for short) on it, taking images in infrared wavelengths just outside what the human eye can see… and they let it stare at that spot for a solid 48 hours.
The result? This picture, showing galaxies flippin’ everywhere, some seen a mere 600 million years after the Big Bang itself. Because the Universe is expanding, distant galaxies appear to recede from us, and their light gets stretched out. This Doppler Effect — the same thing that makes the sound of a car engine drop in pitch when it passes you at high speed — changes the colors we see from these far-flung galaxies, so their ultraviolet light, for example, gets stretched into visible and even infrared wavelengths. What you are seeing here is actually more energetic light emitted by galaxies that’s lost energy traveling across the expanding Universe, so by the time it gets here it’s infrared.
So the colors are not “real” in this image; they’ve been translated into red, green, and blue so we can see them. The reddest objects in the image are most likely the farthest away, and may be as much as 13 billion light years away.
Thirteen billion. With a B.
Let me point out something: here is a zoom in on one part of this ultra deep field, from the upper left. I’ve marked three objects. The one in the middle is a star; even with Hubble stars are point-like sources. The light from the star gets bent a bit (diffracted) around the metal support structure holding one of Hubble’s mirrors in place, giving it that crosshairs feature (we astronomers in the know call them diffraction spikes).
But look, the object on the left, clearly a galaxy, has crosshairs too! And they’re centered right on the galaxy’s nucleus, meaning that galaxy has a very bright, star-like core. We see this a lot in galaxies, when the supermassive black hole that lurks at the heart of every galaxy happens to be actively and voraciously eating matter. As this material spirals in, it gets very, very hot, and emits vast amounts of light. We call theseactive galaxies, and they were common in the early Universe. Studying them gives us insight into what galaxies were like when they were young, how that monster black hole forms and changes over time, and how galaxies themselves are born, age, and evolve over time. How many active galaxies can you find in the bigger picture?
And that little red dot all the way on the right? It’s not possible to say for sure, but given its reddish color in the picture and the fact that it’s a tiny dot makes me think this is one of those extremely distant galaxies, an object whose light has been traveling for roughly 95% of the age of the Universe itself. Those photons have hiked for billions of light years, seen the Universe change drastically, slammed through dust and gas clouds, curved around gravitationally-warped space, all to finally fall into the waiting glass mirror of our eyes’ orbiting proxy in space.
And there are dozens of those red dots in this image, all full galaxies in their own right, shrunk in apparent size and stature by their mind-numbing distance. And there are thousands of other galaxies, too… and yet this image is small, covering an area of the sky only 1/15th the width of the full Moon — it would take
800030 million images like this to cover the whole sky!
That means that everywhere you look, any direction you may choose, there are thousands, millions, billions of galaxies lurking there, hidden by nearby stars, gas, dust, other galaxies, and the terrible scale of space and time of our ancient Universe.
Everywhere we look, there are treasures to unveil. That’s what science tells us. And that’s why I love it.