Rosetta takes some home pictures

By Phil Plait | November 12, 2009 9:50 pm

The ESA spacecraft Rosetta swings past the Earth in a few hours, but look at what it did when it was still 630,000 km (400,000 miles) from home:


Sigh. So lovely.

Rosetta took an image every hour for 24 hours; they’re making a movie which will be online soon. That should be spectacular!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Earth, ESA, Rosetta

Comments (43)

  1. Levi in NY

    Any idea what part of the Earth we’re looking at here?

  2. PlasticRectangle

    The night side?


    I think I see an ice cap on the far left, Antarctica or Greenland?

  3. Flying sardines

    The oceans! That’s most of “Earth” o’course. 😉

    @ 2. PlasticRectangle Says:

    The night side?

    Yes – but not *all* of it’s night side – there’s are strip there that’s experiencing sunrise or sunset and a strip where its dusk / dawn /early morn / late evening depending on direction.

    Awesome crescent Earth – I love seeing our globe as a planet with phases! 😀

    I’m looking forward to the movie! :-)

    THX for sharing this with us all BA & thanks for your marvellous work to all the Rosetta operators, engineers and other folks. :-)

  4. Brett from Canada


    Tsk tsk for not reading the ESA page. :) It says the following about the image:

    “Three images with an orange, green, and blue filter were combined to create this one. The illuminated crescent is centered roughly around the South Pole (South at the bottom of the image). The outline of Antarctica is visible under the clouds that form the striking south-polar vortex. Pack ice in front of the coastline with its strong spectacular reflection is the cause for the very bright spots on the image.”

    And Phil, thank you so much for posting about this. That image made my day. Utter gorgeous.


    Deleted by author; Brett from Canada beat me to it.

  6. Asimov Fan

    I can see a huge poster of this with the words “Home sweet home!” emblazoned across the bottom.

    Beautiful sight. :-)

    Followed in my mind by a scary one: The amount of Earth that’s illuminated here that thin crescent could well symbolise the ratio of our planet’s human population that’s enlightened by science and reason and living in luxurious Western style vs those teeming massses on Earth that are metaphorically “in the dark” struggling on with lives shadowed by crushing 3rd world poverty, ignorance and superstition.

    Sorry – hope I didn’t spoil it for anyone.

    We can always hope that as the world turns so Sagan’s metaphorical science ” as a candle in the dark” casts it light into more and more folks lives until everyone is standing in the light & the darkness of poverty, circumstance and superstition has been abolished making us all more equal and better off.

    @ 5. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE Says:

    Deleted by author; Brett from Canada beat me to it.

    Can’t speak for everyone here I guess, but I wouldn’t have minded a slight bit of repetition there. You didn’t have to delete it y’know. Not in my book. A PS “Durn Brett beat me to it.” would’ve sufficed. 😉

  7. Hi, be sure to follow the Livestream of today’s Rosetta Earth swingby event live from ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt Germany:

  8. Asimov Fan

    Reminds me of a couple of quotes:

    {On space Exploration / terraforming Venus}

    “Earth will benefit in the end, and not just because there’s a new world to go to, but because of what we’ll learn.”

    – Page 237, ‘Venus of Dreams’, Pamela Sargent, Bantam, 1986.

    & noting the lack of artificial human borders here there’s this one from Isaac Asimov himself :

    “The Earth should not be cut up into hundreds of different sections, each inhabited by a self-defined segment of humanity that considers its own welfare and its own “national security” to be paramount above all other considerations. … There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don’t come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity.”

    – Isaac Asimov, Pages 419-421, ‘ I Asimov : A Memoir’, Chapter 7 : ‘Anti-Semitism’, Bantam Books, 1995.

    (Emphasis added.)
    I’m afraid that one is a bit political but still I think its true & worth sayin’..

    PS. Happy Friday 13th y’all! 😉

  9. Petrolonfire

    The ESA spacecraft Rosetta swings past the Earth in a few hours, but look at what it did when it was still 630,000 km (400,000 miles) from home:

    Er .. Phil wouldn’t we need another nearby spaceprobe monitoring the Rosetta one to observe what *it*, ie. the Rosetta spacecraft itself, did? 😉

    We can’t really see what Rosetta *did* (how do you photograph the act of taking a photograph? Esp. when the “photographer” is a spaceprobe that pretty much always looks the same?) – but we sure can enjoy the results! 😉

  10. Nomen Publicus

    I wonder if there is intelligent life there?

  11. Nigel Depledge

    That looks so beautiful!

    We should go there one day.


  12. Nigel Depledge

    @ Nomen Publicus (9) –

    Depends how you define intelligence.

    From The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
    Man had always considered himself to be more intelligent than the dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars, and so on – while all the dolphins ever did was muck about in the water having a good time. Curiously, the dolphins considered themselves to be more intelligent than man for exactly the same reasons.

  13. Didac

    An interesting planet. It seems very Earth-like.

  14. GQ
  15. jasonB

    Darn. They caught me while I was blinking. Awesome photo that will have to played around with a bit and I’ll have a new desktop background. Thanks

  16. ColonelFazackerley

    Nice pic.

    1 photo every hour for 24 hours. So 24 or 25 frames. At a standard-ish frame rate that video will be 1 second long.

    Do you have those numbers correct? Are they going to interpolate some extra frames somehow?

  17. MadScientist

    At 50 earth diameters the view is just a bit over 1 degree (whereas the moon and sun appear to be about 0.5 degrees across from earth). That’s still better than any camera I have. What is the angular field of view of the instrument and what is the angle subtended by a pixel? I’m just curious since I have no idea how close the bird is meant to get as it photographs its target.

  18. sophia8

    That surely is a pretty-looking planet. Wonder who lives there, and if they realise how lucky they are?

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Yeah… You think that is spectacular?

    I’ve started work at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, which new job is both keeping me busy and provide daily-fresh, intense-close-up data from Rosetta and other probes. [Not that I work with that, more’s the pity.] The other day Anders throw up some spectacular fresh and raw Rosetta Langmuir Probe data on the coffee table.

    [Takes another look at the image] … oooh, but that is lovely.

    You win. :-)

  20. Douglas Troy

    Earth certainly is a sight to behold.

  21. Slartibartfast would be proud.

  22. Why are there no lights visible? Are South America / Africa / Australia (whichever might be facing the camera) really that dark? I’d think at least the orange filter would let some signs of civilization through.

  23. Chris A.

    “Frightfully damn pretty,” to quote Monty Python.

  24. Gus Snarp

    Thanks for the new desktop wallpaper.

  25. !astralProjectile

    And over at Blake Stacys’s blog: (Slightly NSFsmallchildren.)


  26. I’m beginning to think the Earth isn’t flat after all.

  27. ^^ I know! It’s obviously crescent-shaped, and we all live in Antarctica 😉

  28. Sean

    Ah, my new desktop background.

  29. Brock @26
    Short exposure time to prevent overexposure of the south pole. The same thing why we can’t see the stars on the Apollo Moon photos :)

    Some more here:

  30. You are here.. somewhere.


  31. Thanks Fritriac, I figured it was something simple like that :)

  32. Stargazer

    It’s a beautiful planet we live on. Would be a shame to ruin it.

  33. Harvey

    What a shot. Where can I buy this camera?

  34. Astrofiend

    All I can say is that I’m freakin’ stoked to be living in this age of space flight.

  35. Plutonium being from Pluto

    What’s the bet this will be one of the BA’s top ten photos of 2009? 😉

  36. David

    So, did a movie ever get made from these photos?

  37. Ted

    Who said planet earth. This is space ship earth. And all its little inhabitants. In a vast
    cosmic wonder speeding along waiting for a incounter with other life like beings.
    Hope fully more civilized then us. And they take pity on us. And rescue those that
    want pease. Beautiful picture.

  38. Dean

    Stunning, just a crying shame we won’t keep it that way !!

  39. Frank

    Ew, gross. Someone spilled organic life all over a perfectly good planet.


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