These days we get to see photos of our planet taken from space literally every day. Astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard the ISS, weather and Earth-observing satellites in various orbits, even distant spacecraft exploring other planets in our Solar System… all have captured images of Earth from near and far. But there was a time not that long ago when there were no pictures of Earth from space, when a view of the planet against the blackness of the cosmos was limited to the imagination of dreamers and artists and there was nothing but the Moon orbiting our world.
On October 24, 1946, — before Apollo, before Mercury, even before Sputnik — that was no longer the case.
The image above shows the first photo captured of Earth from space, taken by a camera mounted to a V-2 rocket that was launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Taken to the United States by the dozen from Germany after the end of World War II, V-2 (for “Vergeltungswaffe 2″) missiles were used by the US Army to improve on their own rocket designs and also by scientists who were permitted to fill their payloads with experiments.
Where do you suppose this rocky, jagged peak is located? Sierra Nevada? The French Alps? The Himalayas? Actually this craggy mountain is located much, much farther away than any of those Earthly ranges (although it’s currently getting closer by the day) – this is a peak on the 4-km-wide nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, imaged by ESA’s orbiting Rosetta spacecraft 435 million km away!
I wonder when ski season opens?
Here at Lights In The Dark I typically keep the articles and information to exploration occurring within our Solar System. But there have been amazing advances in the discovery of worlds far beyond our own family of planets and this recent news is quite fascinating: astronomers have spotted what appears to be a large gaseous exoplanet in the process of formation around a star only 335 light-years away — literally one of our own cosmic neighbors! Not only is this serendipitous, but also provides insight to how the planets and moons in our own Solar System may have formed, 4.6 billion years ago.
Whether you think Pluto is a planet, a dwarf planet, a Kuiper Belt Object – or something else entirely – you should still be fascinated by this: a video of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon showing the two distinctly separate worlds actually in motion around each other! Captured by the New Horizons spacecraft from July 19–24, the 12 images that comprise this animation were acquired with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument from distances of 267 million to 262 million miles (429 million to 422 million km) and show nearly a full orbital rotation. Amazing!
We don’t have to keep asking “Rosetta are we there yet?” anymore – we’re there! This morning, August 6 2014, Rosetta made its arrival at the ~4-km-wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and soon sent back some incredible pictures of its surface taken with its OSIRIS science imager. The one above was acquired at a distance of 130 km (80 miles) and shows some very rugged terrain and large boulders, and but some rather smooth, flat regions too. (The same area had been imaged a few days earlier – see at right – but the closer distance obviously allows for much more detail.) Congratulations to ESA and Rosetta for becoming the first mission to rendezvous with a comet! Now the real science can begin!
“Europe’s Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General. “Discoveries can start.”
“After ten years, five months and four days traveling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometers, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here.’
Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General
How exciting – it’s almost time! After over ten years of travel ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta is mere hours away from its first rendezvous with the 4-km-wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko! We’ve all been seeing better and better images of the comet since it first became visible to Rosetta a few months back, with the past couple of weeks bringing us some exceptionally intriguing views as the spacecraft closes the gap, but on Wednesday, August 6 Rosetta will have officially arrived — and I can only imagine what we’ll be seeing then!