Let’s take a look back at our own planet for a moment with this stunning photo captured from the Space Station. This shot, taken on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows lightning flashes in thunderstorms over southern Mexico. Along the right edge bright red and purple streamers can be seen extending high into the atmosphere above a particularly powerful flash: a full-on “red sprite” caught on camera!
It’s over halfway through 2015 and perhaps it’s high time for an all-new, updated, knock-your-socks-off “blue marble” photo of our beautiful planet Earth. And so earlier this week NASA delivered just that, courtesy of the high-definition EPIC camera (yes, that’s a real acronym) aboard the DSCOVR spacecraft positioned nearly a million miles away toward the Sun. The image above was captured on July 6, 2015, using the camera’s visible-light channels… it’s how Earth would appear to our eyes were we there (with the help of a telephoto lens, that is.)
And it really is a “blue marble” image, of the kind previously only captured by departing (or approaching) planetary exploration spacecraft or from inside Moon-bound Apollo capsules (see below)… you simply can’t get a shot like this from low-Earth orbit!
“This is the first true blue marble photo since 1972.”
– John Grunsfeld, NASA, July 24, 2015
There was a bit of a press frenzy last week surrounding the idea of a global flag that could be used in instances of human exploration off our planet, where international collaboration could be celebrated and memorialized on alien worlds rather than the more old-timey nationalistic space races with various countries’ flags dotting remote landscapes across the Solar System. To this end Oskar Pernefeldt, a design student at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, created a proposal for a “Flag for Planet Earth” as a senior project – a flag that could be proudly planted and worn by future astronauts as we expand our presence through space. Various news sites picked up the story, as seen in this article on Verge.com by Jacob Kastrenakes – and it spread from there as “this is the flag we’ll plant” when we land on Mars, an asteroid, the Moon (again), Europa, etc., etc.
The question is: will it really? And more importantly, would we even want it to be? I, for one, would not.
ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission is best known today for its two historic firsts of entering orbit around a comet and sending a lander onto the surface of said comet, in May and November of 2014 respectively. But Rosetta didn’t just go directly from its March 2, 2004 launch to comet 67P; it had to perform several flyby maneuvers beforehand with planets and asteroids on its way out to meet a comet. And now, ESA has shared many of the images acquired during those close passes during its cruise phase in a series of online albums for the public to easily access.
The image above shows the Moon beyond the hazy line of Earth’s atmosphere, acquired on March 4, 2005 during Rosetta’s first gravity-assist flyby of Earth just over a year after its launch. (Rosetta made three such passes by our planet before gathering enough velocity to make it out to 67P!)
See a list of Rosetta’s flybys below and find out how to access the albums.
It’s like something out of a Hollywood film or a science fiction novel: a dark star sneaks up on Earth from just outside the Solar System, discovered too late to do anything about it (and really, what could we do?) and plows through the cloud of comets that surrounds the Sun like a haze of icy gnats, sending them flying everywhere… including on collision courses with Earth. Mass hysteria ensues.
Except that this isn’t just a story concept – scientists think this is actually something that happened 70,000 years ago! Minus the mass hysteria, of course… our ancestors were just beginning to settle down in the fertile lands of the Middle East after wandering out of Africa and would have had no idea what was happening at the edges of the Solar System (besides maybe a bright star occasionally flaring up in the night sky.)
Recently featured on Universe Today, this video of Earth from space assembled by video artist Phil Selmes uses actual photos captured from the Space Station, with some fancy editing to create seamless transitions between views. It’s another beautiful presentation of the fragile oasis we call home.
“I don’t see politics, races, borders, countries, religions or differences,” Selmes said in an article on Universe Today. “I saw one planet, one world, one incredibly beautiful miracle in the absolute vastness of the universe.”