If you’ve ever pondered how the Earth and Moon might look from a distance of three million kilometers (1.9 million miles), then wonder no more, as the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 asteroid explorer has managed to capture an incredible image of the two bodies in a single shot.
Taken on November 26, the image was recorded by the vessel’s optical navigation telephoto camera (ONC-T), and shows most of the Earth’s eastern hemisphere, with the Moon in orbit as if suspended by an enormous celestial rope.
Hayabusa 2 was launched on December 3, 2014, and is currently performing a swing-by of the Earth before heading off to an asteroid called Ryugu, where it will collect samples that researchers hope will provide clues regarding the “origin and evolution” of the Solar System. It is expected to reach its closest point to Earth at 19.07 JST (09:07 EST) on December 3 – a year to the day after its launch.
Ryugu is a C-type asteroid, so named due to the large quantities of carbon molecules it contains. Other types of asteroids include S-type – which are predominantly stony – and the metallic M-type. C-types are considered particularly useful to researchers since they harbor organic and hydrated minerals – meaning they contain water – and are thought of as particularly “primordial.” As such, they potentially hold clues as to the origins of life on Earth, as well as the structure and formation of the earliest components of the Solar System.
Speaking before the launch of Hayabusa 2, Yasuhiko Takagi of Aichi Toho University – who has been working on the project – stated that “minerals and seawater which form the Earth, as well as materials for life, are believed to be strongly connected [to] the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system. We expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body.”