Out of the Blue

Earth's crescent taken by the departing Akatsuki's ultraviolet imager (JAXA)
Earth’s crescent taken by the departing Akatsuki’s ultraviolet imager (JAXA)

Japan’s Akatsuki (PLANET-C) spacecraft, launched on May 20, captured this image of home as it sped away on its six-month journey to Venus. Using its ultraviolet camera Akatsuki (“Dawn” in Japanese) saw the crescent Earth as a bright electric blue from a distance of over 155,000 miles away, on May 21, 2010.

Akatsuki (as well as the IKAROS spacecraft, also launched on May 20) are doing well and on their way  to Venus. Akatsuki will arrive at our planetary neighbor in December and spend two years studying its dense, turbulent atmosphere – in particular its curiously fast movement; at 220 mph it moves around Venus 60 times faster than the planet itself rotates. IKAROS, the first solar sail spacecraft, will pause briefly at Venus before heading towards the far side of the Sun.

Image: JAXA