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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Martian view of Earth
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

The first ever picture of the Earth taken from the Red Planet has been obtained by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. This is our world as the Martians would see it.

Earth and Moon
Earth and its Moon as seen from the Red Planet
Distant Earth is blue and beautiful against the deep darkness of space. The Moon is close by.

It is another reminder of our smallness against the vastness of the cosmos. A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, as Carl Sagan once put it.

It is not the first time that the Earth-Moon system has been photographed from afar.

Several departing space probes have also taken images; the Voyager spacecraft looked back from the edge of the Solar System.

MGS also looked towards Jupiter, capturing the banded gas-giant planet and some of its moons.

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The Earth and Moon image was taken from Mars orbit on 8 May. Some special processing was applied to make both the Earth and the much darker Moon visible in the same picture.

"We've spent the last six-and-a-half years staring at Mars right in front of us," says Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems, of San Diego, US, who operates the camera aboard Mars Global Surveyor.

"Taking this picture allowed us to look up from the work of exploring Mars and gain a new perspective on the neighbourhood, one in which we can see our own planet as one among many."

When the image was taken, the Sun was high over the Atlantic - morning in America, evening in Europe.

The image shows our home in a "half-Earth" phase. The bright area at the top of the image is cloud cover over central and eastern North America. Below that, a darker area includes Central America and the Gulf of Mexico.

Tiny dot

MGS also photographed Jupiter and three of its four Galilean satellites: Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa.

Pale Blue Dot
Pale Blue Dot: Earth from deep space
The spacecraft, one of the most successful missions to the Red Planet ever undertaken, has been orbiting Mars since September 1997.

The satellite has examined the entire Martian surface and provided a wealth of information.

The most distant picture ever taken of the Earth was from Voyager 1 in February 1990 when it was at the orbit of Neptune, 6.4 billion kilometres (4 billion miles) away.

It showed the Earth as a pale blue dot.

Moon dives behind Earth
16 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Voyager going strong 25 years on
19 Aug 02  |  Science/Nature
Distant spaceprobe in repair drama
10 Apr 02  |  Science/Nature


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