The Parker Solar Probe — humanity’s first mission to visit a star — is zooming through space on its way to meet the sun. But while the intrepid spacecraft has a blazing future ahead (pun intended), it still has time to look back at home.
Last month, the Parker Solar Probe turned its sights back toward Earth and snapped a lovely portrait of our planet from about 27 million miles away. Unveiled yesterday by NASA, the snapshot shows Earth as a luminous sphere shining among a multitude of bright specks of light.
The image was taken on September 25 by the probe’s WISPR instrument, the only camera on board the spacecraft, and offers a two-panel view of our cosmic neighborhood. This is because WISPR (short for Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) is equipped with two telescopes — “which point in slightly different directions and have different fields of view,” NASA explained in the photo release.
According to the space agency, the left-hand image was captured by the instrument’s inner telescope, whereas the right-hand image — which showcases the glorious view of Earth — was produced by WISPR’s outer telescope.
Surprise Shot Of The Moon
Hidden in plain sight, the moon was also caught on camera by the Parker Solar Probe. However, in order to make it visible, NASA had to zoom in on the photo of Earth.
The close-up revealed the moon as a small bulge “peeking out from behind the Earth” on our planet’s right side.
“Hello, Parker Solar Probe! The spacecraft took a look back at Earth on September 25. Earth is the large bright object in the right side of the full image — and if you zoom in, you can even see the moon peeking out from behind Earth on the right!” the space agency tweeted yesterday.
Hello, #ParkerSolarProbe! ???????? The spacecraft took a look back at Earth on Sept. 25. Earth is the large bright object in the right side of the full image — and if you zoom in, you can even see the Moon peeking out from behind Earth on the right! https://t.co/Wwh4ONn81A pic.twitter.com/Es5gGBIpc1
— NASA Sun & Space (@NASASun) October 24, 2018
Aside from our home planet and its natural satellite, other celestial bodies also made it into the picture. For instance, the dazzling feature visible in the right-hand image to the low-left of Earth is the open star cluster Pleiades.
Meanwhile, the two bright objects spotted near the bottom of the left-hand image are Betelgeuse and Bellatrix — two bright stars in the Orion constellation which make up the shoulders of the giant hunter.
The reason why these stars appear elongated has to do with reflections occurring within WISPR’s lens system, noted NASA.
Another notable feature is the smudged hemisphere visible in the middle of the Earth photo. This is a lens flare and has been known to happen when space cameras image bright objects.
“In this case, the flare is due to the very bright Earthshine,” NASA pointed out. “Close passes by Venus and Mercury may occasionally create similar patterns in the future, but these are limited cases and do not affect the science operations of the instrument.”
One week after the photo of Earth was taken, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe performed its very first flyby of Venus, the Inquisitr reported at the time.
The spacecraft will swing by Venus six more times throughout its seven-year journey to the sun before it can finally plunge through the solar corona — or the incandescent atmosphere surrounding our biggest star — in 2025.
When this happens, the two-eyed WISPR instrument will be taking a close look at the features of the corona “before they pass over the spacecraft,” stated NASA officials.