Here’s a view of our home planet and lovely Moon captured from 127 million miles away by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on November 20, 2016. The sunlit part of Earth shows eastern Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Australia with ice-covered Antarctica visible as a bright white spot. The Moon has been brightened in this image, since it would be too dark in relation to a properly-exposed Earth to be readily visible (and I added more dark background to frame them a bit better.) But the positions and sizes of the two worlds are as captured by the HiRISE instrument, which was designed to map the surface of Mars in exquisite detail but occasionally is aimed to take a look back homeward.
Researchers use these images to help calibrate the HiRISE camera, since we know the precise reflectance of light from the Moon in various wavelengths. But it’s also a wonderful chance to see our world from the vicinity of another, which always—at least for me—stirs the imagination.
(If you’re wondering about the colors of Earth here, the imaging wavelengths used by HiRISE were infrared, red and blue-green instead of “true” red, green, and blue that our eyes perceive. The result is still an RGB image, but the hues are shifted a bit toward the red end. Read more here in the HiRISE blog.)
I can’t help but be reminded of Carl Sagan’s famous 1994 Pale Blue Dot passage:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
And then of course there’s the even more “blunt” quote by Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell, which (unfortunately) holds just as much meaning today as it did when he traveled to the Moon in January 1971:
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
A few previous images of Earth from Mars can be seen below.