It's rare to get a photo of a spacecraft after it has left Earth. Spacecraft sometimes catch bits of themselves in photos, but for one camera (Earth-based or not) to take a picture of another spacecraft is just not common. The Dawn mission team challenged amateur astronomers to try to catch photos of Dawn as it receded from Earth, an exercise that would have been particularly valuable in the event of any spacecraft anomaly. Here's one such image, the first I've seen, captured by Bill Dillon, using the 61-centimeter instrument at Sierra Stars Observatory. It may just be a fuzzy blob -- but that fuzzy blob is a functioning robot, out in deep space, exploring places we can't go.
Bill Dillon, Sierra Stars Observatory
Dawn spacecraft, a million kilometers away
This blink animation consists of two 14-minute exposures. The faint speck that moves between the two images is the Dawn spacecraft, a million kilometers from Earth (about three times the Earth-Moon distance), and moving very fast. The telescope tracked Dawn during the long exposures, so the stars in the field of view form long and much brighter trails; the spacecraft glinted at only 20th magnitude at the time of the observation.
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