We’re used to seeing other planets in the Solar System – and even beyond – from Earth. So it’s a bit special when we get to see our own planet from afar, especially with as much clarity as this.
Yes, that amazing image above shows Earth and the Moon as seen from Mars, 205 million kilometers (127 million miles) away. It was snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is currently in orbit around the Red Planet. The image is so detailed that you can make out continents and clouds on our planet.
“The reddish feature in the middle of the Earth image is Australia,” NASA said in a statement. “Southeast Asia appears as the reddish area (due to vegetation) near the top; Antarctica is the bright blob at bottom-left. Other bright areas are clouds.”
Although it shows Earth and the Moon together, this is actually a composite picture of four images taken on November 20, 2016, by the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). The Moon is much darker than Earth, so would not be visible in the same shot at the same brightness scale as Earth. Their sizes and positions in this composite image are as they would appear, though.
HiRISE has the largest telescopic lens we’ve ever sent into deep space, measuring 0.5 meters (19.7 inches) across. That’s enough to let us see the surface of Mars with a resolution of about 0.3 meters (11.8 inches) per pixel, seeing objects as small as boulders on the surface.
The $720 million MRO was launched in August 2005 and entered orbit around Mars in March 2006. Since then it has provided stunning views of the Martian surface, and even helped us find liquid water on the Red Planet.
This isn’t the first time it has snapped an image of Earth and the Moon. It did the same back on October 3, 2007, from a distance of 142 million kilometers (88 million miles). And we've seen Earth from further than that too, notably from Saturn and beyond. Still, it's pretty awesome.