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Portrait of Earth and Moon

MESSENGER image of the Earth and Moon

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft took this image of the Earth and Moon from the distance of the orbit of Mercury, 183 million kilometres away.

Looking back from its orbit around Mercury, NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft captured this view of Earth and the Moon on May 6, 2010.

The spacecraft was 183 million kilometres (114 million miles) from Earth at the time, farther than our average distance from the Sun (150 million kilometres, or 93 million miles) because Mercury and Earth were at different places in their orbits around the Sun.

The image was taken by the spacecraft’s Wide Angle Camera (WAC) on the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS).

The view was a happy coincidence for the MESSENGER science team, as the probe was looking for vulcanoids, small rocky objects that have been postulated to hide in orbits between Mercury and the Sun.

MESSENGER is the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1974-75. It is not, however, the first to get a long-distance shot of Earth. Below are some others, and you can see more of them on the Planetary Society’s site here.

Spirit rover image of Earth

In 2004, the Spirit rover on Mars snapped the first shot of our planet as viewed from the surface of another planet.

Cassini long-distance image of Earth

In 2006, Cassini sent back snapshots from 1.5 billion kilometres (930 million miles) from Earth as the spacecraft orbited Saturn. The Earth is small dot to the right of centre.

Voyager 1 pale blue dot image of Earth

And the operators of the venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft pieced together a family portrait of the entire Solar System in 1990, spying Earth from more than 6.4 billion kilometres (4 billion miles) away.

NASA image provided by the MESSENGER science team, NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. Text adapted from information issued by Mike Carlowicz, NASA.

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