A picture of our home taken from Mercury's orbit

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Just a short post today. I am still recovering from the SETIcon. I will tell you more about it soon. An image is worth a thousand words so just look at this picture taken by Messenger Spacecraft.

The binary system Earth-Moon seen from the Messenger Spacecraft with its Wide Angle Camera credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The binary system Earth-Moon seen from the Messenger Spacecraft with its Wide Angle Camera (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

The Messenger spacecraft is looking for Vulcanoids, an hypothetical population of asteroids which could be orbiting between Mercury and the Sun. Messenger is a space mission currently in orbit around the Sun which a perihelion nearby the planet Mercury orbit. This mission is, therefore, perfectly located to find these asteroids.

When this image was released, the first thing which came in my mind is that Messenger had discovered a binary vulcanoid system. This is typically what we see when we image a binary asteroid system with an adaptive optics system using the Keck-II telescope. Well, in fact, this is NOT an asteroid system, but a very famous binary system that we all know quite well. The Wide Angle Camera of Messenger captured a picture of the Earth-Moon system. The brightest dot is our planet and the nearby faint one is the Earth’s Moon.

Several space missions took pictures of our home. This kind of images has a technical, philosophical and esthetical interest. The first images of Earth was taken by Lunar Orbiter in 1966 and Zond-5 in 1968, two space missions toward the Moon launched by the USA and the Soviet Union respectively. Since then, several spacecrafts captured images of our planet while flying by (like Galileo spacecraft) to calibrate their on-board instruments. Missions en route to the outer part of the solar system  like Voyager or more recently the Cassini spacecraft were also used to picture our home giving us an idea of their remoteness. This Messenger image is the first picture taken from the inner edge of our solar system.

I am attaching a few pictures taken by these missions, showing our planet as a “pale blue dot“. Looking carefully you should find our planet on the first 2 images.

Earth and Moon seen by the Cassini Spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter (Sept 2006).

Earth and Moon seen by the Cassini Spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter (Sept 2006).

Picture of Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990

Picture of Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990

Earth and its Moon seen by Galileo Spacecraft after a gravity assist flyby in 1992

Earth and its Moon seen by Galileo Spacecraft after a gravity assist flyby in 1992

About Franck Marchis

Dr. Franck Marchis is a Researcher at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007. Over the past 15 years, he has dedicated his research to the study of our solar system using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics. More recently he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological, using fluorescence microscopy. His currently involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager, an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope which will be capable of imaging and record spectra of exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.

2 Responses to A picture of our home taken from Mercury's orbit

  1. Paulo Leme says:

    Amazing!!! Just to visually confirm our smallness in the Universe!

  2. I wondered why I was expecting the moon to look smaller when compared to Earth. Now that I’ve thought about it, it should be that huge! (^;

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