The far side of the Moon looks beautiful from up in space

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a series of spectacular images of the “far side” of the Moon. The pictures add to the collection that only started in 1959, when a Soviet spacecraft returned the first images of the side of the Moon which is never visible from Earth.

This spectacular picture shows the far side of the Moon as it crosses the DSCOVR satellite and Earth (credit: NASA/NOAA).

This spectacular picture shows the far side of the Moon as it crosses the DSCOVR satellite and Earth (credit: NASA/NOAA).

The images were collected last month by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which is mounted on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth with the primary task of monitoring, in real time, solar winds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

EPIC is constantly pointed at our planet and while being currently in its testing phase, it will soon become fully operational and begin regular scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. About twice a year, it will also capture Moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the Moon. “It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo at NASA. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

The pictures of the far side of the Moon were taken in just less than five hours on July 16. The first time this ever happened was in 1959, when the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft returned the very first images. The far side of the Moon, in fact, cannot be seen from Earth as the Moon is tidally locked to our planet. This happens because the time our natural satellite takes to rotate around its own axis coincides with the time to revolve around Earth; as a result, we are able to only see the very same side of the Moon at any time.

Similar images of those just sent by EPIC, were taken in May 2008 by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft from 31 million miles away. EPIC’s “natural colour” images of Earth are generated by combining three consecutive monochrome exposures taken in quick succession. To be more specific, EPIC acquires series of 10 images at a time, using different narrowband spectral filters to slice different portion of the spectrum of light – from ultraviolet to near infrared – for different, specific scientific purposes. From each series, the three images filtered for “red”, “blue” and “green” are then combined and used to create the aforementioned “natural colour” pictures. Because there is a 30-second interval between the consecutive filtered acquisitions, each reconstructed image of the Moon shows an artefact – a green offset to the right and a red/blue one to the left – as the Moon actually moves from when the first (red) and the last (green) pictures are taken.

The far side of the Moon lacks the large, dark basaltic plains (maria) which are instead prominent in the Earth-facing side. The most relevant features of the lunar far side are the Mare Moscoviense and the Tsiolkovskiy Crater.

Starting from next month, EPIC will begin sending regular observations and NASA will post daily colour images of Earth at this link. DSCOVR is a partnership project between NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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