There’s nothing like a bit of cosmic perspective to jump-start your day. Feast your eyes, and feel very small, my fellow Earthlings.
This beautiful GIF comes way of NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four-megapixel camera and telescope sitting comfortably on the DSCOVR satellite, nearly 1 million miles away from our pale blue dot. For a bit of comparison, the famous Apollo 8 Earthrise photo was taken from a mere 240,000 miles away.
Even from such a distance, EPIC allows us an incredibly, well, epic view of the full disk of Earth – a view that only 24 people in all of human history have seen in person. Let that sink in for a moment: 24 people.
“Our primary mission is to monitor solar wind and drastic changes in space weather,” explains the DSCOVR team. If gone unnoticed, the geomagnetic storms produced by changes in solar wind have the potential to disrupt nearly every major public infrastructure system back on Earth, including power grids, telecommunications, aviation and GPS.
“EPIC [also provides] scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere,” adds NASA. “About twice a year the camera will capture the moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the moon.”
If you look closely near the middle of the animation, you’ll see Hurricane Dolores, which peaked with 130 miles per hour winds on July 13th, appear off the coast of Mexico. We get these details in “natural color” by combining three separate exposures (red, green, and blue light) that are taken by the camera in quick succession.
“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”
If you’re wondering why the Moon looks a bit odd, it’s because the moon in the photos isn’t the moon you’d see in the night sky. What you’re looking at the dark side (or far side) of the moon, which is relatively bare when compared to its Earth-facing disk. Pink Floyd would be jealous.
“The far side hadn’t been seen before 1959,” explains NASA. “Since then, several missions have helped us map the sun-facing disk in great detail. Viewers can pick out the distinctive the largest far side features: the Mare Moscoviense in the upper left and Tsiolkovskiy crater in the lower left.”