Solar System Family Portrait from the inside out. Image credit: NASA/John Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The MESSENGER spacecraft has captured the first portrait of our Solar System from the inside looking out. Comprised of 34 images, the mosaic provides a complement to the Solar System portrait – that one from the outside looking in – taken by Voyager 1 in 1990.
“Obtaining this portrait was a terrific feat by the MESSENGER team,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “This snapshot of our neighborhood also reminds us that Earth is a member of a planetary family that was formed by common processes four and a half billion years ago. Our spacecraft is soon to orbit the innermost member of the family, one that holds many new answers to how Earth-like planets are assembled and evolve.”
MESSENGER’s Wide Angle Camera (WAC) captured the images on November 3 and 16, 2010. In the mosaic, all of the planets are visible except for Uranus and Neptune, which – at distances of 3.0 and 4.4 billion kilometers – were too faint to detect. Earth’s Moon and Jupiter’s Galilean satellites (Callisto, Ganymede, Europa, and Io) can be seen in the NAC image insets. The Solar System’s perch on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy also afforded a beautiful view of a portion of the galaxy in the bottom center.
“The curved shape of the mosaic is due to the inclination of MESSENGER’s orbit from the ecliptic, the plane in which Earth and most planets orbit, which means that the cameras must point up to see some planets and down to see others,” explains MESSENGER imaging team member Brett Denevi of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “ The images are stretched to make it easier to detect the planets, though this stretch also highlights light scattered off of the planet limbs, and in some cases creates artifacts such as the non-spherical shape of some planets.”(read more)