A high-resolution camera aboard a Nasa satellite has beamed back its first photograph - a spectacular view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away, the US space agency has announced.
The colour image of Earth was taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (Epic) onboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, launched in February this year.
“This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.
The photograph has been generated by combining three separate images captured by the camera, which can click a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters - from ultraviolet to near infrared.
“As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system. DSCOVR's observations of Earth, as well as its measurements and early warnings of space weather events caused by the sun, will help every person to monitor the ever-changing Earth, and to understand how our planet fits into its neighborhood in the solar system,” Bolden added.
These initial Earth images show the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the images a characteristic bluish tint.
The EPIC team now is working on a rendering of these images that emphasises land features and removes this atmospheric effect. Once the instrument begins regular data acquisition, new images will be available every day, 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired by EPIC. These images will be posted to a dedicated web page by September.
“The high quality of the EPIC images exceeded all of our expectations in resolution,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The images clearly show desert sand structures, river systems and complex cloud patterns. There will be a huge wealth of new data for scientists to explore."
The primary objective of DSCOVR, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and the US Air Force, is to maintain the nation's real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts.