NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has returned a breathtaking image of planet Earth from a distance of roughly one million miles from the homeworld. The image captures the full disk of our planet showing a stunning sunbathed vista of blue oceans and swirling clouds, with glimpses of the North and Central America land masses.
Thanks to the proliferation of Earth observation platforms coupled with the all-pervading reach of social media, images of our planet from space are easy to come by. However, most Earth imaging observatories are too close to the planet to capture a complete picture of the complex ecosystem that we call home.
For example, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tweeting choice Earth views to their legions of followers are unable to capture a unified picture of our planet, as the station orbits in relatively close proximity to Earth at a height of roughly 240 miles (400 km).
DSCOVR on the other hand, having reached its planned orbit in February, is capable of snapping regular high detail portraits of spaceship Earth from a staggering 1 million miles above its surface. This new image is a near perfect example of DSCOVR's capabilities, displaying Earth hanging against the infinite blackness of space, granting a notion of the fragility of our planet, with a beauty to rival any image of Earth's full disk taken to date.
"This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” states NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system. DSCOVR’s observations of Earth, as well as its measurements and early warnings of space weather events caused by the Sun, will help every person to monitor the ever-changing Earth, and to understand how our planet fits into its neighborhood in the solar system.”
The image was captured from the orbiter's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which boasts the capacity to observe our planet with the use of 10 narrowband filters between the ultraviolet to near infrared spectrums. In this case, three separate images were combined to create a finished piece with near photographic-quality.
In the new blue marble image, sunlight has been scattered by Earth's atmosphere to create a blueish tinge, which becomes more pronounced toward the edge of the planetary disk. NASA is currently working on a remaster of the image that would mitigate the effect while highlighting land masses.
The images and data returned by DSCOVR will be used to forecast and monitor real time solar-winds, as well as quantifying ozone and aerosol levels present in Earth's atmosphere. The satellite will also be capable of measuring cloud height, and creating dust and ash maps for the entire planet. By September 2015, images of Earth snapped by DSCOVR will be uploaded to a dedicated website a mere 12 – 36 hours after acquisition.
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