We don’t often see our planet and satellite from the perspective of another world, and we’ve never seen them like this before. This small white dot orbiting around a slightly larger white dot is the Moon orbiting the Earth when viewed from Mars.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter not only gave us the world’s first-ever live feed from Mars, but also turned its face to its home planet and took a nostalgic family portrait of Earth and the Moon, inspired by the iconic “pale blue dot.”
Thirty-three years ago, as it traveled beyond the solar system, Voyager turned around one last time and took what has since become an iconic image of our planet. “This is here. This is home. This is us,” said Carl Sagan, who was instrumental in creating this image when it was first published. This new image of Earth and its natural satellite may not be the most impressive image of our planet you’ve ever seen, but it still conveys a sense of “Hey, wow, this is us.”
“We wanted to bring Carl Sagan’s musings back to the present day,” explained Jorge Hernandez Bernal, who is part of the Mars Express team that created the image.
In these simple images from Mars Express, the Earth is the equivalent size of an ant seen from 100 meters away, and we are all there. Even though we’ve seen images like this before, it’s still humbling to stop and think: we need to take care of the pale blue dot, there is no planet B.
The first planetary image taken by Mars Express 20 years ago also shows the Earth and Moon, taken from a distance of 8 million kilometers on its way to Mars. The new images are taken from a distance of 300 million kilometers (186.4 million miles) as it made more than 24,000 revolutions around the Red Planet.
The Mars Express mission was originally designed to last one Martian year (687 Earth days). In the 20 years since its launch, it has orbited Mars more than 1.1 billion kilometers, communicated with 12 other orbiters, landing modules and rovers that have since landed on the planet’s surface, and contributed to more than 1,800 published scientific papers helping us explore Mars’ atmosphere, climate and surface. It shows no signs of slowing down and has been approved to continue until at least 2026.
“It may be another 20 years before humans can lift their eyes from the surface of Mars and see Earth in the night sky”, said Mars Express project scientist Colin Wilson.