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From Beyond the Sun: Earth Image of the Week September 17, 2010
Messenger Space Prove View of Earth-Moon
Earth and the moon appear near the boundary of the constellations Libra and Scorpius in this image.
Most images of Earth taken from space reveal close-up views of mountain ranges, clouds, rivers and other terrain features of our dynamic planet.

But occasionally, NASA helps us earthbound inhabitants to take a step back to see the big picture of our place in the solar system and universe.

Such a view was recently beamed back by NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft.

Looking back from its voyage to enter orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011, MESSENGER captured the view to the right of Earth and the Moon on May 6, 2010.

The spacecraft was 114 million miles from Earth at the time, farther than our average distance from the Sun of about 93 million miles. This was because Mercury and Earth were at different places in their orbits around the Sun.

The image was taken by the spacecraft's Wide Angle Camera on the Mercury Dual Imaging System. From the spacecraft’s view, Earth and the Moon are located near the boundary of the constellations Libra and Scorpius.

Though it is a beautiful, thought-provoking picture, viewing our planet from far away was not the main reason that the mission team collected this image.

Instead, it was acquired as part of MESSENGER's campaign to search for vulcanoids, small rocky objects that are believed to exist in orbits between Mercury and the Sun.

Though no vulcanoids have yet been detected, the MESSENGER spacecraft is in a unique position to look for smaller and fainter vulcanoids than have ever before been possible.

Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington