not a simulation!

This is amazing -- it doesn't look real at all, but apparently it is:

The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft captured several stunning images of Earth during a gravity assist swingby of its home planet on Aug. 2, 2005. Several hundred images, taken with the wide-angle camera in MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), were sequenced into a movie documenting the view from MESSENGER as it departed Earth.

Comprising 358 frames taken over 24 hours, the movie follows Earth through one complete rotation. The spacecraft was 40,761 miles (65,598 kilometers) above South America when the camera started rolling on Aug. 2. It was 270,847 miles (435,885 kilometers) away from Earth - farther than the Moon's orbit - when it snapped the last image on Aug. 3.

Earth rotation (4.90 MB) or Earth rotation with date and time (5.78 MB).

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24 Responses:

  1. gutbloom says:

    Why aren't there any stars in the background? With no light polution I would think that the sky would be lit up.

    • tiff_seattle says:

      Because the camera is calibrated to photo the earth, not the stars. In order to see the stars they would have to do a long exposure, and then you wouldn't have that great shot of the earth. If you look at the pictures taken of the space shuttle or on the moon, you don't see the stars in those pictures either.

      • gutbloom says:

        That makes sense. Unlike my spelling of "pollution". I never noticed the lack of stars before. In the mpeg the Earth looks so... alone.

        Space is big, huh? Who knew?

    • tsarin says:

      The Earth's global annual average albedo is .3. It may not be light pollution qua pollution, but it's certainly going to outshine any background celestial objects.

    • tiff_seattle says:

      According to the show NASA was a blundering movie producer thirty years ago. For example, Conspiracy Theory pundits pointed out a seeming discrepancy in Apollo imagery: Pictures of astronauts transmitted from the Moon don't include stars in the dark lunar sky -- an obvious production error! What happened? Did NASA film-makers forget to turn on the constellations?

      Most photographers already know the answer: It's difficult to capture something very bright and something else very dim on the same piece of film -- typical emulsions don't have enough "dynamic range." Astronauts striding across the bright lunar soil in their sunlit spacesuits were literally dazzling. Setting a camera with the proper exposure for a glaring spacesuit would naturally render background stars too faint to see.

    • chuck_lw says:

      That's because "Earth" is the product of some decades-long, Hollywood special-effects-generated conspiracy to fool us all!

      And maybe that's for the best. Trust me, you don't want to know where we're really living.

    • relaxing says:

      At first I saw the starfield, but then I realized it was dust on my monitor.

  2. strspn says:

    The sun-glare in center left is so beautiful. It looks like it's under the cloudcover because the clouds disperse the glare. Very impressive.

  3. wow. That is just so damn cool.

  4. drbrain says:

    A key MESSENGER design element deals with the intense heat at Mercury. The Sun is up to 11 times brighter than we see on Earth and surface temperatures can reach 450 degrees Celsius (about 840 degrees Fahrenheit), but MESSENGER will operate at room temperature behind a sunshade made of heat-resistant ceramic cloth.


    MESSENGER's solar arrays are about one-third solar cells and two-thirds mirrors. The panels will face intense solar energy, but the small mirrors placed between the power-generating solar cells will reflect nearly 70 percent of that energy and keep the panels cooler. This technique has been used on other missions, but not this extensively.

  5. loosechanj says:

    Makes a dandy icon.

  6. babbage says:

    It's interesting that half the Earth is in shadow - despite the fact that the craft is going to Mercury, much closer to the Sun than us, its transfer orbit doesn't start out in the direction of the destination. I suppose that's the nature of transfer orbits though.

    • drbrain says:

      1 Earth flyby, 2 at Venus, and 3 at Mercury before orbital insertion. It'll be traveling another 6 years before starting its main mission.

  7. relaxing says:

    That's some ugly macro-blocking on the Earth's left edge.

  8. edge_walker says:

    Every time I see a picture of Earth as seen from space is like the first time.

  9. edge_walker says: apparently just got around to running a story about this movie, which includes a bunch more details on the MESSENGER mission.