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NASA's Deep Impact Films Earth as an Alien World
July 18, 2008 9:04 AM   Subscribe

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has photographed Earth from 31 million miles away. NASA has woven the images together, creating a video of Earth as the moon orbits around it. Videos: 1 | 2 [.mov].
"During a full Earth rotation, images obtained by Deep Impact at a 15-minute cadence have been combined to make a color video. During the video, the moon enters the frame (because of its orbital motion) and transits Earth, then leaves the frame. Other spacecraft have imaged Earth and the moon from space, but Deep Impact is the first to show a transit of Earth with enough detail to see large craters on the moon and oceans and continents on Earth. 'To image Earth in a similar fashion, an alien civilization would need technology far beyond what Earthlings can even dream of building,' said Sara Seager, a planetary theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and a co-investigator on EPOXI.'"
posted by ericb (76 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sigh... Quicktime...
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


YouTube video: The Moon transits the Earth.

More from Discover Magazine blog.
posted by ericb at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Note: The NASA website hosts the .mov videos. The Discover website has embedded YouTube versions.
posted by ericb at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2008


This is amazing. I am humbled.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2008


Those Discover links are the new home of Phil Plait's blog, the man known for BadAstronomy.com. I loved that a guy who spent 10 years working on the Hubble Space Telescope and has probably seen images that would blow most of our minds could say "the following is just about the coolest thing I have ever seen."
posted by pupdog at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2008


Someday, I hope to visit that planet.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


This provides some support for the earth is round hypothesis.
posted by found missing at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2008 [9 favorites]


That's one of the most stunning things I've ever seen.
posted by grimcity at 9:27 AM on July 18, 2008


The moon... I want to play catch with it.
posted by pwally at 9:27 AM on July 18, 2008


I imagined myself floating about 10 feet off the nose of some interstellar transport ship in an EV suit with the vastness of space surrounding me and looking at that tiny ball in front of me. Wondering... is that home?
posted by Sam.Burdick at 9:27 AM on July 18, 2008


Weren't we putting mechanical cameras on the moon 40 years ago with better resolution than that?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2008


This provides some support for the earth is round hypothesis.

I think my flat-panel display says otherwise.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2008


earth is round hypothesis.

I'm amazed people think these are real. Didn't you see how jerky the movement was? It's obviously poorly done stop motion.



Deep Impact must have a really impressive telephoto to get a shot of earth that looks that good from that distance. That is some amazing photography.
posted by quin at 9:31 AM on July 18, 2008


Obviously Photoshopped.

The Earth is flat. And if you still believe that, I got some snake oil and a couple bridges I can sell you.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


If the Earth were really round and rotating, we'd be flung off. It isn't called the Round Earth Theory for nothing, you know.
posted by DU at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sigh... Quicktime...
posted by jeffamaphone


Try installing VLC. And for embedded movies, the MediaPlayerConnectivity extension for firefox will let you play them in the external player of your choice.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2008


Deep Impact distance.

A view of [Deep Impact] EPOXI's telescope assemblies.
"The larger of the spacecraft's two telescopes will attempt to find the planets using the astrometry and transit methods."*
posted by ericb at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2008


Weren't we putting mechanical cameras on the moon 40 years ago with better resolution than that?

Taking pictures from 31 million miles away that makes the Earth that size?

Er... I don't think so, no.


(from the article):To image Earth in a similar fashion, an alien civilization would need technology far beyond what Earthlings can even dream of building," said Sara Seager...

To image earth? To image?

I hope they take back whatever qualifications she has, slap her silly, and throw her out of MIT for that hideous jarring crunch to language.

Besides, wouldn't alien civilizations just need exactly the same technology as we have now to do that? Surely that isn't so far out of our imagination? Or am I missing some deeper significance to her statement?
posted by Brockles at 10:12 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Beautiful. Thank you.
posted by tits mcgee at 10:16 AM on July 18, 2008


I come into view at 11:50 in case any of you want to know what I look like.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:19 AM on July 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


That's so amazing I can't quite make myself believe it. I keep thinking "Um, yeah, that's straight from Pixar. They need to fix the jerkiness 'cuz it looks pretty amateur right now."

And I love the spindly look of equipment that's designed to operate in deep space (like the EPOXI telescope that ericb linked to). It's some of the coolest, highest-tech stuff that humans have ever made, yet it looks like it's slapped together out of piano wire, HVAC ducting and Saran Wrap. I could probably build a pretty convincing model out of stuff I have lying around the garage. I know the engineers are working with a totally different set of design constraints than normal, but I still get a kick out of how flimsy and gangly the stuff looks.

What's with that telescope anyway? It looks way too small to acquire such high-resolution images from such a distance. Can telescopes be a lot smaller if there's no atmosphere around to interfere, or does the photograph distort the apparent size of the equipment, or am I just woefully ignorant about optics and astronomy and other cool stuff?
posted by Quietgal at 10:38 AM on July 18, 2008


Brockles: image is a verb as well as a noun; i guess she was implying that aliens would do their imaging from within their own planetary system (ie they would be at least as far away as the nearest star).
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 10:43 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Besides, wouldn't alien civilizations just need exactly the same technology as we have now to do that? Surely that isn't so far out of our imagination? Or am I missing some deeper significance to her statement?

For the same reason it's much harder to take a picture of Earth from a third of an AU away than it is from the surface of the moon, it's vastly harder still from another solar system. For example, inhabitants of the nearest known terrestrial-ish planet, Gliese 436 b, would need a telescope 10 million times more powerful than Deep Impact's to make out Earth with the same resolution. Because of diffraction effects, such a telescope would need an aperture approximately the size of Mars.
posted by teraflop at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2008


Brockles: image is a verb as well as a noun

No. No it isn't. That was my point. It is a noun.
posted by Brockles at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2008


For example, inhabitants of the nearest known terrestrial-ish planet, Gliese 436 b, would need a telescope 10 million times more powerful than Deep Impact's to make out Earth with the same resolution.

My point was that we also have deep space probes, and they would only need to be slightly more complicated/clever to get near enough to take the same image. It is hardly 'outside the realms of our understanding', it's just something along the lines of just having the next generation of space probe like deep impact, that is (I don't doubt) already well into the design phase.

It's not just about the telescope/camera, it's about putting the same/slightly better camera/telescope a bit nearer. It's an iteration in development, not a fantastic leap. Someone with identical technology that lives 62 million miles away would - right now, with a carbon copy of our probe - be able to take the exact same picture.
posted by Brockles at 10:53 AM on July 18, 2008


ppfft. It's a fake.

You can see the strings holding each of the "planets" up. They probably shot it on the same soundstage that they faked the moon landings on. Everyone knows the Earth is flat and that everything else revolves around us. This proves nothing.
posted by rand at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2008


Quietgal:

it's 31 million miles away and the the earth's diameter is 8000 miles, so the angular resolution is about 1/10 times 8*10^3/31*10^6 or 3*10^-5 radians.

for a single telescope you need 1.2m for 0.1arcsec. that's 5*10^-7 radians. so you can go a factor of 100 smaller - this should be possible with something a little bigger than a 1cm diameter telescope, resolution wise (that seems a bit small have i made a mistake?)

their biggest problem was probably keeping the pointing fixed over a long exposure.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:00 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


they would only need to be slightly more complicated/clever to get near enough to take the same image

the nearest star is over twenty million million miles away. "slightly more" is not a factor of a million. space is big.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:03 AM on July 18, 2008


I come into view at 11:50 in case any of you want to know what I look like.

Someone get that man a case of zit cream.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:03 AM on July 18, 2008


No. No it isn't. That was my point. It is a noun.

are you a joke account that always posts stuff that is wrong?
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:13 AM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]



My point was that we also have deep space probes, and they would only need to be slightly more complicated/clever to get near enough to take the same image.


Well, they'd have to know where to point it, too.
posted by gimonca at 11:13 AM on July 18, 2008


Brockles: OK, but now we're moving into the realm of science fiction. Sure, there's no physical reason we can't just send a camera 30 light-years and have it report back via maser or something, but it's not going to be practical anytime soon. Barring the sudden invention of warp drive, that is.

Also, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology would like a brief word with you...
posted by teraflop at 11:15 AM on July 18, 2008


image: noun, verb, -aged, -agĀ·ing.

- verb (used with object)
15. to picture or represent in the mind; imagine; conceive.
16. to make an image of; portray in sculpture, painting, etc.
posted by obvious at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2008


I can't watch this from where I am. Did NASA edit out the Space Trash? Or is all that crap orbiting Earth shown with a crystal clarity?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2008


Or is all that crap orbiting Earth shown with a crystal clarity?

I think you took the line about jimmythefish's zits being visible from space too literally.
posted by found missing at 12:02 PM on July 18, 2008


I'm always disappointed by images from space. I think I've been spoiled by animation and computer graphics. I feel like I've seen that image before, only better. The fact that it's real makes it more interesting to think about, but not more interesting visually. Or maybe the awe generating function of my brain isn't working properly. I'm jealous of Phil Plait's awe experiencing ability.
posted by diogenes at 12:06 PM on July 18, 2008


While this was very cool to watch...isn't the 31 Million Miles only about a third of the distance from here to the Sun? So when I realized that, it wasn't quite the "oh my, we can now see alien worlds" type scenario.
posted by JibberJabber at 12:28 PM on July 18, 2008


Sure, there's no physical reason we can't just send a camera 30 light-years and have it report back via maser or something, but it's not going to be practical anytime soon.

Yeah, that was kind of the point. "Impractical" doesn't sit well alongside "far beyond what we could even dream of" to me. I think she was being a little gushing.

And fuck, I hate the american habit of taking a noun, using it as a verb and then claiming it's fine to do so, two weeks later. The Cambridge dictionary doesn't recognise it, the OED wants me to pay, so I can't check.

"- verb (used with object)
15. to picture or represent in the mind; imagine; conceive."

So they mean "imagine" then.

"16. to make an image of; portray in sculpture, painting, etc."

Pffft. A catch all because people can't be bothered to say 'paint' or 'photograph'. One more example of backwards, vague language destruction. Stick a diamond rating on it. It sounds like it originated from wank marketing speak, to me. As such it's dreadful English.
posted by Brockles at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2008


This is a beautiful thing.
posted by triv at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2008


I'm afraid you're wrong on this one, Brockles.

image, v.

SECOND EDITION 1989

({sm}{shti}m{shti}d{zh}) [f. IMAGE n.: in the 15th c. instances (in sense 4) app. a. F. imager (13-14thc.).]

1. trans. To make an image of; to represent or set forth by an image (in sculpture, painting, etc.); to figure, portray, delineate. Also fig.

a1790 WARTON Ecl. iv. (R.), Shrines of imag'd saints. 1821 SHELLEY Prometh. Unb. III. iv. 173 Those imaged to the pride of kings and priests. 1844 MRS. BROWNING Drama of Exile Poems 1850 I. 84 He images his Master's wounds! 1856 FROUDE Hist. Eng. x. II. 408 Traces of the fair beauty of the monastic spirit we may yet see imaged in the sculptured figures..upon the floors of our cathedrals. 1957 A. C. CLARKE Deep Range xv. 129 The familiar rocky terrain was imaged on TV and sonar screen. 1970 Physics Bull. Nov. 490/2 Figure 1a shows the simplest possible optical system which includes both a parallel beam in which the working space can be placed (B) and a lens which can image it on to a receptor.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:40 PM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. Well that sucks. I'd never seen any citations of historical use for it, and the only dictionaries I could find that listed it as a verb were US.

Either way, I think I shall still refuse to use it. It sounds more clunky than Clunky McClunk, the badly built metal robot, on a pogo stick, to me.
posted by Brockles at 12:46 PM on July 18, 2008


On behalf of the residents of the US, I accept your sniveling Canadian apology.
posted by found missing at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


I can see my house from here!
posted by brundlefly at 1:06 PM on July 18, 2008


Brockles, I'm with you on noun-to-verb creeping. If the olympics had a contest for defending the integrity of the English language, you would easily medal.
posted by longsleeves at 1:13 PM on July 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


I see what you did there.
posted by found missing at 1:20 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brockles: Like "image," "photograph" can be used either as a verb or as a noun, so it may not be your best counterexample.

Ugly and awkward ~= ungrammatical.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:09 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


WOW that thing is close to us. And it's BIG, too!

Really, seeing that does put the whole "gravitational pull of the moon" thing into perspective.
posted by yhbc at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2008


You can't see the parking ticket I got that day. Or the flock of pigeons my neighbor was telling me about.

At the time these seemed like events to note, too.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:25 PM on July 18, 2008


WOW that thing is close to us.

Well, relatively. That's around 384400 km. Here we are from a different perspective.
posted by zennie at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


not sure this is a good idea: image is a verb as well as a noun
Brockles: No. No it isn't. That was my point. It is a noun.

Nouns can be verbs now, Brockles.
Been like this for awhile now.
Sorry you didn't get the memo.
Perhaps I should fax it to you?
posted by ZachsMind at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2008


Nouns can be verbs now, Brockles

/gets gun.

Oh fuck, no. Let's not try and make that a blanket statement. I'd have to invest in a nuclear warhead to lob over the border if that sort of thing catches on too much.
posted by Brockles at 3:11 PM on July 18, 2008


i was worried about the resolution, but it does make sense if you look at it this way: it's only about 1/5 the way to mars, and the resolution of a typical ground based image of mars isn't *much* worse than that (people could see "canals"). it turns out the coherence length of turbulence in the atmosphere is about 10cm (ie that's the effective limiting diameter of a simple ground based telescope at an un-exception site). so a diameter of about 10cm sounds about right (cos you'd get the extra resoln from it being closer).
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 3:20 PM on July 18, 2008


"...if that sort of thing catches on too much."

"Language is a virus." - Laurie Anderson

Deal with it Brockles. English is a living breathing evolving behemoth monster and it refuses to cater to whatever whims you deem to impose upon it.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2008


Oh yeah...

Brockles: /gets gun

/disarm who=Brockles now=y
posted by ZachsMind at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2008


Back in the 1980's I read that Mercury would be particularly high and visible on some weekend evening, and so GF and I shagged out to the beach (which no longer exists thanks to Katrina) under the I-55 bridge at Manchac to see it across the relative darkness of Lake Maurepas. (Astronomy from Louisiana generally sucks what with the altitude and weather and all.)

So the Sun set, and you could still tell where it was due to the very faint horizon glow, and sure enough there was Mercury just where it was supposed to be and not only that, there was Venus about twice as far out. The two planets were conjunct and aligned in almost a straight line perpendicular to the line of sight from Earth, and I realized that I was looking at a line sixty million miles long, from Venus through Mercury to the just-set Sun, and ninety million miles away.

We got my little telescope on the planets to see their phases, but the sixty million mile line remains one of the big wow moments of my life.
posted by localroger at 4:23 PM on July 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Nouns can be verbs now
posted by The Power Nap at 4:29 PM on July 18, 2008


/gets gun

/guns Brockles down before he can raise his weapon
posted by The Tensor at 4:33 PM on July 18, 2008


Verbing weirds language.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:51 PM on July 18, 2008


Everyone knows the Earth is flat and that everything else revolves around us

The Terra-ists have already won.
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we exist?
posted by zouhair at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2008


Damn, Blazecock Pileon, thanks for posting that. Any usage history that references both Mary Shelley and Arthur C. Clarke is 100% A-OK by me.
posted by sdodd at 6:16 PM on July 18, 2008


localroger: then you should start getting ready for June 2012's transit of Venus.

The 2004 transit was the most awe-inspiring thing I've ever seen: 2012 will be the last chance in our lifetime to see one.

And in all the discussion leading up to it, nobody told me that (if you were very careful about, you know, looking directly into the sun(!)) the transit of Venus was a naked-eye event.

It was electrifying.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:20 PM on July 18, 2008


So supposing it was an alien spacecraft that too that image of the earth, what could they tell about us from that distance? Is there a way to tell if there is life? Intelligent life?

Oh. Brockles. There was this guy a ways back who wrote some plays and stuff. He used nouns and verbs and verbs as nouns all the time.

"...uncle me no uncle, favor me no favor!" Ring any bells?

I guess he was pretty popular.
posted by tkchrist at 6:34 PM on July 18, 2008


Would now be a good time to mention that one of my favorite movie moments is the transit of Mercury in Sunshine?

Because it is. So awesome. The music makes it, especially.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:34 PM on July 18, 2008


tkchrist: Is that your only comeback to linguistic issues?

The same man was pretty renowned for making up words, too. He was not a 'one man language defining machine', much as some would blow smoke up his arse and claim it.

Oh. And it's "favour".
posted by Brockles at 6:57 PM on July 18, 2008


brockles,

you hear "image" as a verb a lot in science because it allows you to speak about making a picture of something without specifying how the image was made, which is implied by words like "photograph" or "paint".

so you can say "we were able to image such and such.." regardless of whether you used an infrared CCD to image earth, or a scanning probe microscope to image atoms, or x-ray photon correlation spectroscopy to image magnetic domains, or whatever. having separate verbs for each of the huge number of techniques used to make pictures of things would be ridiculous. it's a useful linguistic construct, and not at all awkward if you're familiar with it.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 7:05 PM on July 18, 2008


OH GOD NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR NOUN VERB SHIT THERE'S AWESOME MOVIE THING DAMN
posted by dirigibleman at 8:59 PM on July 18, 2008


The only way that could be better is if the next Jim Lovell had captured the images by pointing his camera out the window of his ship, telling us "God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 PM on July 18, 2008


Let me rephrase what I'm trying to get at.

This is the most sublime, brilliant, beautiful fucking imagery humanity has ever concocted. It puts everything we have ever achieved in any time of our history as a species in perspective. You do realize, you -- you as a human being, no , as a life form, are likely to never see anything like this, and that the vast majority of humanity has not and probably will not see what we have seen today. This is the defining moment of our species.

You guys are bitching about the use of the word "image" as a verb.

I hate all of you.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:38 PM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


(Seconded.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:33 AM on July 19, 2008


I was actually quite enjoying the juxtaposition.

Here, we have a mind-bending human achievement that highlights our physical limitations as tiny beings on a tiny planet, our insatiable desire for exploration, and our stubborn efforts to push forward.

And here, we have a mind-numbing human quarrel that highlights our social limitations as millions trying to live together on a tiny planet, our inborn need for comfortable constancy, and our stubborn efforts to push each other to conform.

Well done, MeFi.
posted by zennie at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


The alignment it took to get this series is pretty impressive.

At a scale where the Earth is half an inch across, the size of my thumbnail, the moon would be about the size of a pencil eraser and they would orbit each other separated by an arm's length. The distance to the Deep Impact probe is about 300 feet.

So your buddy is in one end zone of a football field, holding out a stiff thumbs-up, spinning, and moving his arm up and down. You are in the other end zone and want to take a picture where his thumb covers one of his pupils. Both of you are running.

I take that back: this is really impressive.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


First off: love the videos. I remember signing my name up to be on a disc that would get annihilated along with the rest of the impactor on Deep Impact. Then again, I pretty much sign my name up for anything where "I," or at least my name, gets blasted off into space.

Second: why is the verb form of "image" such a big deal? While yes, a more accurate way of putting it would be "photograph" or more awkwardly "take time-lapse photography movie of," it's just not a big deal at all to have "image" as a verb.

Could someone enlighten me as to why the evolution of a language is such a big, upsetting thing to some?

Does it have something to do with Intelligent Design?
posted by agress at 12:07 AM on July 20, 2008


This post has managed to combine in my interests in a spectacular way: I love Pale Blue Dot type videos like this, and I actually revised (parts of) the entry for image v. (and n., for that matter) the other week as part of my work on the OED (this isn't the version above). Thanks, MetaFilter!

The earth really is small, isn't it? And the moon looks almost cute. I found this when I opened Celestia for the first time and managed to lose our home planet within about ten seconds because of it's general puniness as compared to everything else.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 4:03 AM on July 20, 2008


actually, the imaging of planets beyond our solar system is far from unimaginable.

in fact, it's underway.

in more than one way.


and BTW...seargent sandwich FTW...'photograph' is only used by space scientists when actual film is being used...using 'image' for any other method is an intentional convention.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:02 PM on July 20, 2008


The earth really is small, isn't it?

if the universe is infinite, the earth is technically nonexistant. (since x divided by infinity=0 for all x < infinity)...but for our purposes it's ~8000 miles across.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:07 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


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