NASA just released a pretty amazing GIF from a brand new, solar wind-monitoring satellite DSCOVR. From one million miles away, the satellite captured the far side of the moon as it passed in front of Earth on July 16.
While DSCOVR’s main objective is to provide solar wind data for NOAA’s space weather forecasts, it has a remarkable telescope and high-resolution camera that is trained toward Earth. DSCOVR arrived at its final orbiting place just a few weeks ago, after it was launched into space in February. But as the satellite has been getting comfortable in its new orbit, DSCOVR has been wowing us with full-disk images of our home planet.
We never get to see the far side of the moon because although our lunar satellite is orbiting Earth, its position is “tidally locked.” Unlike Earth’s rotation around the sun, the moon is in synchronous orbit which means we always see the same moon night in and night out.
“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”
Even from such a distance, DSCOVR is seeing Earth’s weather patterns in incredible resolution. As the Earth rotates and the moon passes in front, you’ll see a very powerful hurricane off the west coast of Mexico. That’s Hurricane Dolores, which peaked as a category 4 with winds of 130 mph on July 13.
You’ll notice some red and green artifacts in the images, NASA says, but this is normal and the frames are unaltered. The natural color image product is actually the combination of three monochrome channels — red, green and blue.
“Combining three images taken about 30 seconds apart as the moon moves produces a slight but noticeable camera artifact on the right side of the moon,” NASA writes. “Because the moon has moved in relation to the Earth between the time the first (red) and last (green) exposures were made, a thin green offset appears on the right side of the moon when the three exposures are combined. This natural lunar movement also produces a slight red and blue offset on the left side of the moon in these unaltered images.”
A previous version of the image caption above said that DSCOVR was a NASA satellite. It is actually a NOAA satellite with NASA’s “EPIC” camera on board. DSCOVR’s primary mission is to provide data for NOAA’s space weather forecasts.