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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Earth - as seen from Mars
A probe which has spent six years photographing the surface of Mars has turned its attention towards Earth - 86 million miles away.

Probe image
Earth and the Moon can be seen together (Image MSSS)
It produced images of both Earth - with the continents of north and south America in view - and the Moon.

Mars Global Surveyor has been orbiting the planet since September 1997, sending back a wealth of information about the planet's surface.

However, an alignment of Earth and Jupiter prompted the scientists operating the probe's camera to look outwards for a change.

Taking this picture allowed us to look up from that work of exploring Mars and take in a more panoramic view
Dr Michael Malin, Malin Space Science Systems
Dr Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, said: "From our Mars orbital camera perspective, we've spent the last six-and-a-half years staring at Mars right in front of us.

"Taking this picture allowed us to look up from that work of exploring Mars and take in a more panoramic view.

"This image gives us a new perspective on that neighbourhood, one in which we can see our own planet as one of many."

Mission to Mars

The pictures, taken on May 8, were digitally enhanced to reveal cloud cover over central and eastern North America, and northern South America.

A European Space Agency mission to Mars is due to launch at the beginning of June.

The Mars Express spacecraft, which will blast off from Kazakhstan, should arrive at the Red Planet later in the year.

It carries the Beagle 2 probe, which will attempt to land on the planet's surface and look for signs of life.

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