Category Archives: Earth
This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever happen.)
On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space. And Voyager was still a long ways off from reaching the “edge” of our solar system, the bubble of energy emitted by the Sun in which all of the planets, moons, and asteroids reside. In fact, Voyager 1 still has an expected five years to go before it crosses that boundary and truly enters interstellar space.*
“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. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
– Carl Sagan
What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!
Ready? Let’s go!
On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit making astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell the first humans in history to travel around the Moon and see first-hand its hidden far side. During their 10-orbit voyage they captured one of the most well-known and iconic images of the Space Age: the blue-and-white sphere of Earth floating in the blackness of space beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. It was the first time a person had ever taken such a magnificent photo of the two worlds, and thanks to the trove of data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter we can now recreate the exact moments that the historic event took place, down to the position of the Apollo 8 spacecraft and the conversation between the three men aboard.
The video above, released today by NASA, lets us all experience what it was like to catch a glimpse of the Earth from within Apollo 8 45 years ago. Check it out — preferably in full-screen, high-definition. It’s worth it.
“The vast loneliness up here at the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.”
— Jim Lovell, live Apollo 8 telecast, Dec. 24, 1968
Want to see more photos from Apollo 8? Visit the Project Apollo Image Archive here.
21 years ago today, December 16th, 1992, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this image of Earth and the Moon from a distance of about 3.9 million miles (6.2 million km). It’s one of the few images ever captured that singularly show both worlds in their entirety.
And to think that when this image was taken, our planet’s human population was 5.49 billion — 1.7 billion less than it is today. To put that into perspective, it wasn’t until 1830 that Earth had 1 billion people living on it. The next billion wasn’t reached until 100 years later. (Source)
(Needless to say, Earth itself hasn’t gotten any larger.)
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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 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 would see as they return home.
Last Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, NASA’s Juno spacecraft made a slingshot pass of Earth in order to get the necessary speed boost to reach Jupiter in 2016. As it came within 347 miles of our planet’s surface, passing closest over the southern Atlantic at 3:21 p.m. EDT, it used its JunoCam (developed by the San Diego-based Malin Space Science Systems) to take images along the way. This is one of them, and it gives us a spacecraft’s-eye-view of the Atlantic and the eastern coast of Argentina.
On July 19 did you wave at Saturn as Cassini was aiming its camera back our way? If you did (and if you sent a photo of you waving to JPL, like I did) you’re in this awesome new image, a compilation of 1400 submitted photos from assembled into a mosaic of Earth, a planet-wide wave to a spacecraft 900 million miles from home.