If you’re in love with space then you’ll fall head over heels for this: it’s a picture of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto back in 1990—on Valentine’s Day, no less. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, which reminds us that we are all just riding on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
On Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter…and 217 miles (350 km) above the Earth!
A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA.
“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984
From a vantage point of nearly one million miles away NASA’s EPIC camera aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite captures an image of the entire Earth every 1-2 hours as it rotates. For the last year and a half or so these pictures have been uploaded on the EPIC website for public viewing and use as they originally look to the EPIC instrument; now there’s an option to view Earth in “enhanced” mode, which boosts the contrast, saturation, and overall appearance to make landforms and clouds more apparent—and you can even zoom in too, in true CSI-style!
“The ‘enhanced’ color images make land features more visible,” said Sasha Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is achieved by enhancing low intensity pixel values. The effect of atmospheric haze caused by air molecular scattering and attenuation of solar light by ozone has been also removed.”
Read more from NASA here: NASA Makes an EPIC Update to Website for Daily Earth Pics
America’s newest next-generation Earth observing weather satellite, NOAA’s GOES-16, has returned its first high-definition images of Earth—one of which even includes the Moon!
Astronomers are always watching the skies for observations of near-Earth asteroids—”space rocks” that have orbits close to Earth’s and, in the case of potentially hazardous asteroids (aka PHAs), those whose orbits could actually cross Earth’s and are larger than 150 meters (500 ft) across. When a new one of these is discovered—no small feat considering that many are very dark, move quickly, and could really be anywhere in the sky—it’s a scramble to determine the object’s orbital parameters and figure out just how close it can get to us and when. Such was the case on Oct. 19, 2016, when the asteroid 2016 WJ1 was identified with the Catalina Sky Survey. This object, estimated to be anywhere from 110 to 340 meters across—easily within the potentially hazardous range—was initially calculated to pose a threat in 2065 with a possible impact risk, albeit a very small one. Eventually though, scientists were able to refine the risk chance with more observations of 2016 WJ1…observations that had actually occurred over 13 years earlier.
Read the full story from ESA here: Asteroid sleuths go back to the future
Here’s a view of our home planet and its 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.