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See other posts from February 2013

Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Pretty picture: a moon transit

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

2013/02/21 05:52 CST

Topics: pretty pictures, pics of Earth by planetary missions, Earth, the Moon, Deep Impact

A reader comment on my previous Earth-and-Moon image inspired me to dig up the following photo. The question was: has there ever been a photo of Earth and the Moon showing the latter transiting the former? The answer is yes. It's not the greatest image for a couple of reasons, but it's a unique and priceless view of our home binary planet. And it gets better: it's actually part of a movie.

First, here's a still. Depending upon the brightness of your monitor, you may or may not notice a huge quantity of artifacts in this image, which I'll explain in a moment. Try to ignore the artifacts and enjoy the view of our blue planet and our surprisingly brown moon. It's a little hard to tell the geography from this one image, but it's obvious in the image sequence below.

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact

NASA / JPL / UMD / color composite by Gordan Ugarkovic

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact
As part of its EPOXI mission, Deep Impact spent 24 hours over May 28 and 29, 2008, watching Earth from a distance of 50 million kilometers. During that time, the Moon transited Earth as seen from the spacecraft. The view was captured using Deep Impact's High Resolution Imager, which had a serious blurring problem; efforts to reduce the blurring have introduced some other artifacts, like the concentric ringing on the Moon.

Here's a sequence of eight images of the Moon transiting Earth. Each image was taken half an hour after the last.

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact (sequence)

NASA / JPL / UMD / color composite by Gordan Ugarkovic

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact (sequence)
As part of its EPOXI mission, Deep Impact spent 24 hours over May 28 and 29, 2008, watching Earth from a distance of 50 million kilometers. During that time, the Moon transited Earth as seen from the spacecraft. The view was captured using Deep Impact's High Resolution Imager, which had a serious blurring problem; efforts to reduce the blurring have introduced some other artifacts, like the concentric rings on the Moon. These eight images were captured about half an hour apart, so the whole sequence spans about 3.5 hours.

It's clearer here that we're looking at Africa. Now here's the piece de resistance: an animation. I left this for last because it's huge -- hopefully it's downloaded for you by the time you've gotten to this point in the article! It's cool because it's a full 24-hour rotation sequence so it splices beautifully from beginning to end of the animation. Watch carefully for the moment that you see the clouds jump -- that's the boundary between the beginning and end of the imaging sequence.

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact (animation)

NASA / JPL / UMD / animation by Gordan Ugarkovic

The Moon transiting Earth, as seen from Deep Impact (animation)
As part of its EPOXI mission, Deep Impact spent 24 hours over May 28 and 29, 2008, watching Earth from a distance of 50 million kilometers. During that time, the Moon transited Earth as seen from the spacecraft. The view was captured using Deep Impact's High Resolution Imager, which had a serious blurring problem; efforts to reduce the blurring have introduced some other artifacts, like the concentric rings on the Moon. The full sequence covers 24 hours, a full rotation of Earth.

So what's with all the artifacts? Well, the sequence was shot with Deep Impact's High Resolution Imager, which had a serious problem in its optics: a mirror that did not reach its proper shape when cooled to in-space temperatures. Here's the relevant information on that problem from a Deep Impact press kit:

Tests after launch indicated that the imager's focus was not as expected. Although the focus has improved after the instrument was heated, or "baked out," to remove normal residual moisture, sp atial resolution remains a factor of 3 to 4 less than planned. A "tiger team" of engineers found that the most likely cause of the problem was a mirror that, while flat at room temperature, developed some curvature at the cryogenic temperatures of the thermal-vacuum tests. The team will compensate by using an image processing technique called deconvolution which was also used to improve images from the Hubble Space Telescope before its second camera instrument was installed. The science team is confident that the technique will allow them to recover resolution essentially the same as what was planned before launch.

Deconvolution can only do so much. In particular, it tends to introduce "ringing" artifacts, which are particularly visible in this animation around the limb (edge) of Earth and in the form of a concentric ring on the Moon, particularly when the Moon is crossing Earth's disk. A wonderful thing about this blur problem is that scientists made lemonade from lemons by using the HRI to observe exoplanet transits across distant stars. The camera couldn't resolve the star no matter how sharp its vision was anyway, and by having the star's light spread out across many pixels with the blurred optics, they were actually able to get much more sensitive measurements of the amount that the star's light dimmed with each planetary transit.

So there you go. It's funny that for all the images that we have of moons transiting other planets (some of which I'm including below), this is the only one that I know of where both Earth and Moon appear as full globes, with the Moon transiting Earth.

Ariel transits Uranus

NASA / STScI / Larry Sromovsky / processing by Ted Stryk

Ariel transits Uranus
The Hubble Space Telescope pointed toward Uranus on July 26, 2006 at about 15:30 UTC to take the images used to assemble this color view of Ariel, the fourth largest of Uranus' moons, transiting the planet's disk.
High-resolution Voyager 1 view of Jupiter with Io and Europa

NASA / JPL / Bjorn Jonsson

High-resolution Voyager 1 view of Jupiter with Io and Europa
A double transit of Jupiter by moons Io and Europa, as observed by Voyager 1 on its approach on February 27, 1979. This is a 14-frame mosaic. Most of the data was captured in a 3-by-3 mosaic at around 11:00 on February 27, 1979, but gaps were filled with data taken an hour before and an hour later.
Phobos over Mars from Phobos 2

Russian Academy of Sciences / Ted Stryk

Phobos over Mars from Phobos 2
The moon Phobos, 25 kilometers in diameter, is much darker than bright, dusty Mars, as seen in this image captured by the Phobos 2 spacecraft on March 25, 1989. Phobos 2 took a total of 13 color sets of images of Phobos before contact was lost on March 27, 1989.
Tethys and Titan

NASA / JPL / SSI / colorization by Gordan Ugarkovic

Tethys and Titan
Cassini captured a grayscale animation of Tethys crossing in front of Titan on October 17, 2009. In this version, Gordan Ugarkovic has colored in Titan based on its color as seen in previous Cassini photos.

(Okay, that last one isn't a moon transiting a planet, but that's just semantics.)

 

Read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, pics of Earth by planetary missions, Earth, the Moon, Deep Impact

Comments:

David Salo: 02/21/2013 10:13 CST

Thank you so very much, Emily! Those are very beautiful pictures, and really get across the idea of the Earth and Moon as parts of a single system. And you're right, the Moon really is "surprisingly brown." I was expecting it to be gray. The geography of the Earth is easy to figure out, even at that small resolution, once the Arabian peninsula comes into view; but the Moon doesn't seem to have any really distinctive features on that side.

David Gash: 02/22/2013 01:56 CST

Thank you Emily, you have made my day, from a very cold and cloudy Lincolnshire. dave

Randy Boddam: 02/24/2013 09:25 CST

Hey Emily! At first I thought that it was Australia that the moon was passing over but then I could see that it was Africa. What a delight to see that. Is the "brown-ness" of the moon related to the optics/processing? Thanks, again, for a wonderful view. It's almost like I should be saying, after watching the animation, Make it so, Number One!

Bill Campbell: 02/24/2013 01:42 CST

Great family of images. Will never get common place, will always be awe inspiring. Thanks Emily.

Emily Lakdawalla: 03/11/2013 07:00 CDT

Everybody: I'm glad you enjoyed this entry! Randy: the "brown-ness" is not an artifact. Most surfaces in the solar system are spectrally "red," meaning that they are a little brighter in red wavelengths than they are in blue wavelengths. It's a result of space weathering. When things are dark and slightly red (like our moon, which has an albedo of 12%), they look brown to us.

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