If this doesn’t tug at your heart’s space strings, I don’t know what will.
What we’re seeing here is a video made from images captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it flew past Earth on October 9, 2013. This is the
first second time* a video has been made of the Moon orbiting our planet from beyond the Earth-Moon system and, in effect, it’s what a future human space traveler might see as they return home.
“If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon.”
The images weren’t captured with Juno’s “good” camera, so the close-up resolution isn’t very high. Instead they were taken with the spacecraft’s Advanced Stellar Compass, which is used to plot its position against background stars (which doesn’t require a high pixel count.)
(Also, find out what happened when amateur radio operators sent a message to Juno as it flew by.)
Juno used the flyby to give it a gravitational “kick in the pants” for its outbound trip to Jupiter. The spacecraft, which launched on August 5, 2011, is now heading out toward the giant planet with a scheduled arrival date of July 4, 2016.
After Juno arrives and enters into orbit around Jupiter in 2016, the spacecraft will circle the planet 33 times, from pole to pole, and use its collection of science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant’s obscuring cloud cover. Scientists will learn about Jupiter’s origins, internal structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
It won’t ever see Earth again, but it did give us a wonderful look at ourselves before it left. And, in the end, isn’t that what exploring space is all about?
*Note: I spoke too soon — NASA’s EPOXI spacecraft actually captured images of the Moon passing in front of Earth from 31 million miles away on May 29, 2008, and thus the assembled video was the first such showing the Moon in orbit around Earth (ht Dan Fischer).