PASADENA, Calif., May 22 (UPI) -- NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft currently orbiting the red planet has taken a unique photo of Earth, the first ever from another planet.
The image, captured on May 8 but released Thursday, not only shows Earth as a tiny world in the vast darkness of space, but also includes a view of Jupiter and some of its larger moons.
"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 Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, which operates the camera aboard the MGS. "Taking this picture allowed us to look up from that work of exploring Mars and take in a more panoramic view," he added.
In the photo, Earth appears as a planetary disk, in a "half-Earth" phase, NASA said in a written statement, noting technicians specially processed the image to reveal both the planet and its much-darker moon.
In the sunlit area, cloud cover can be seen over central and eastern North America. Also visible is a darker region that includes Central America and the Gulf of Mexico, and bright clouds cover northern South America.
The image also shows the Earth-facing hemisphere of the moon. The image is so detailed that the large and conspicuous ray system associated with the moon's Tycho crater can be seen.
Far from Earth on the same image is Jupiter and three of its four Galilean satellites: Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. The moons -- including the out-of-sight Io -- were discovered by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610. Technicians applied more special processing to this part of the image to allow the darker satellites to be seen near the much brighter gas giant.
NASA calls the Mars Global Surveyor one of its most successful missions to Mars. Orbiting the red planet since September 1997, the spacecraft has "examined the entire Martian surface and provided a wealth of information, including some stunning high-resolution imagery, about the planet's atmosphere and interior," the space agency said.
The probe currently is helping to evaluate landing sites for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover missions and the British Beagle 2 lander mission. Both the twin rovers and the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which carries the Beagle 2, are due to launch this summer and arrive at Mars between late December 2003 and late January 2004.
(Reported by Phil Berardelli, UPI Deputy Science and Technology Editor, in Washington)
(To view the MGS photo of Earth, the moon and the Jovian system, go to msss.com/mars_images/moc/2003/05/22/)