Parker Solar Probe snaps picture of home
The Parker Solar Probe took time off on the way to its historic rendezvous with the Sun to look back and take a snapshot of home. Taken by the unmanned spacecraft's Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) on September 25, 2018 at a distance of 27 million mi (43 million km), the image shows the Earth as a lopsided ball with an elongated lens flare caused by Earthlight at the bottom of the panel.
The image was captured by the Parker Solar Probes only imaging instrument. The WISPR consists of two telescopes pointing in slightly different directions that produce different fields of view. Unlike the cameras used on planetary missions, WISPR is a coronagraph. That is, a specialized instrument designed to take images of the Sun's corona, so it can't take the best pictures of Earth and produces a pair of different images with each shot.
According to NASA, the Earth image has a slight bulge in close up. This is because in low resolution, the Moon and the Earth blur together as the Moon passes from behind the planet, producing the lopsided effect. Aside from the Earth and the lens flare, the images also show the Pleiades and the stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix.
Launched from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket, the Parker Solar Probe is currently on course for the first of seven flybys of the planet Venus. These flybys will use the planet's gravitational pull to slow Parker down and place it on a trajectory that will send it to the edge of the Sun's corona – a distance of 3.8 million mi (6.1 million km) from the surface.
As Parker passes through the outer reaches of the solar corona at a distance seven times closer than any previous probe, it will trace the flow of energy from the corona, map the structure and dynamics of the solar magnetic sphere, and study the mechanism that produces the solar winds.