First Picture of Earth From Mars

National Geographic News
May 22, 2003

No one would have believed, in the last years of the 19th century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us.—War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (1898), as adapted for Jeff Wayne's musical version of the book.

A century after H.G. Wells wrote his novel about the invasion of the Earth by Martians, the first photograph of our planet as seen from Mars has been made. It is what Martians would see if they scrutinized the Earth.

The camera aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft currently orbiting the red planet photographed Earth, the moon and Jupiter, as seen in the evening sky of Mars, at 9 a.m. EDT, May 8, 2003.

"This first-ever image of its kind not only shows Mother Earth as a tiny alien world in the vast darkness of space, but also includes a view of the giant planet Jupiter and some of its larger moons," Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), of San Diego, which operates the camera aboard MGS, said in a statement accompanying the release of the image.

"From our Mars orbital-camera perspective, we've spent the last six-and-a-half years staring at Mars right in front of us," said Michael Malin, president and chief scientist of MSSS. "Taking this picture allowed us to look up from that work of exploring Mars and take in a more panoramic view. This image gives us a new perspective on that neighborhood, one in which we can see our own planet as one among many," he said in a statement.

The image showing Earth as a planetary disk—in a "half-Earth" phase—has been specially processed to allow both Earth and the much darker moon to be visible together. The bright area at the top of the image of Earth is cloud cover over central and eastern North America. Below that, a darker area includes Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. The bright feature near the center-right of the crescent Earth consists of clouds over northern South America.

The image also shows the Earth-facing hemisphere of the moon, since the moon was on the far side of Earth as viewed from Mars.

At the time, Earth was 86 million miles (139 million kilometers) from the camera orbiting Mars.

Mars Global Surveyor has been orbiting the red planet since September 1997. The mission has examined the entire martian surface and provided a wealth of information, including high-resolution imagery, about the planet's atmosphere and interior.




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