Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Earth From Nearly 1 Million Miles Away!

I recently wrote a blog post about The Blue Marble, the famous 1972 image of our planet from space taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts, and about the importance of seeing our home planet from space. When we view the entirety of our globe, without our perceived national and ethnic borders, we give ourselves a chance to reflect on our role within the global biosphere, within the global community. 

On the 20th of July of this year, NASA released a new image of our world taken from space. This image was collected by a spacecraft called the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), and it was taken from almost 1 million miles away from the surface of the planet. 

Here is that image, in all of its glory:

Our Earth from a distance of ~930,000 miles (1.5 million km), taken on 6 July 2015 by the DSCOVR spacecraft

The DSCOVR spacecraft took the above image not long after it reached its final orbit at roughly 930,000 miles away (~1.5 million km). The distance is important, as the spacecraft will operate at this distance for the rest of its mission, orbiting at a point in space known as the Lagrange Point 1, or L1. This point in space will provide the spacecraft with a stable orbit (no need for extra fuel to keep it in its orbit) and will allow the spacecraft to monitor the entirety of our planet.

The primary goals of DSCOVR, which is run primarily through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are to monitor solar wind conditions and to provide nearly continuous climate data for our world. The spacecraft will measure the intensity of energetic particles making their way from the Sun to the Earth, such as those released in coronal mass ejections (DSCOVR will be able to offer 15-60 minute warnings of incoming changes to the solar wind that may pose dangers to our technology). DSCOVR will use UV, visible, and infrared light reflected from the Earth to measure ozone, ash and dust, cloud composition and structure, and vegetation cover. The spacecraft will also take full images of the Earth every two hours. 

Full, high-resolution pictures of the Earth at a rate of one every two hours! That's incredible. This means that it's only a matter of time until we get to see some awesome timelapse videos put together showing the dynamic Earth from nearly 1 million miles away. I can only imagine what these new data sets are going to mean for Science on a Sphere and other tools for public engagement, let alone all of the awesome science that's going to come from the DSCOVR mission.

This first image from the Deep Space Climate Observatory is so fantastic and so inspiring that even President Obama posted a Tweet about it:

For a bit more info about the Deep Space Climate Observatory, check out the video below:

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