If you’ve ever stood here on Earth, looked up at the sky and wondered what this tiny blue marble and its moon would look like to the first colonists on Mars, a new high-resolution image released late last week by NASA should provide a good idea of the view from the Red Planet.
According to Space.com, the stunning picture was captured using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) at a time when the two worlds were approximately 127 million miles (205 million km) apart, and is really a composite of two exposures taken in order to calibrate the probe’s camera system.
The two exposures were taken on November 20 and were necessary because of the well-known reflectance of the Earth-facing side of the moon, the US space agency said in a statement. Each was processed individually to optimize the detail of both objects, they added, since the moon is much darker than Earth and would be difficult to see if shown at the same brightness scale.
Even though the two images were processed separately and later combined, the finished photo retains the correct sizes and positions of both objects relative to one another, NASA said. They are separated by a distance of roughly 30 times Earth’s diameter in the image, and the reddish-colored feature visible near the middle of Earth’s face is Australia, the agency noted.
Australia, Southeast Asia, Antarctica are visible in the picture
In the image, the Earth and moon appear to be closer than they actually are. This is because the photographs were taken at a time when the moon was almost directly behind Earth from the Red Planet’s point of view, so that the Earth-facing side of the moon would be visible, said NASA.
The HiRISE camera is powerful enough to resolve features as small as 3.3 feet (1 meter) across on the surface of Mars from high above the planet’s atmosphere, according to Space.com. It also captures images in three wavelength bands – infrared, red, and blue-green, which are depicted in the new image as the colors red, green, and blue, respectively, agency officials added.
In addition to Australia, other Earth features that are detectable are Southeast Asia, which is the reddish area near the top of the planet, and Antarctica, which is the brightly-colored mass located on the bottom left. The other bright areas represent cloud cover, NASA stated in a press release.
Launched in August 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been in orbit around the Red Planet since March 2006, using its instruments to study the planet’s climate and geology. It also has been searching for signs of previous water-related activity on the surface, scouting out a potential landing site for future manned and unmanned missions, and acting as a communication link between Mars rovers and their Earth-based mission control teams, Space.com said.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona