A new video shows Earth and the moon whirling through space, as seen by NASA's Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft in October.
"If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, 'Take us home, Scotty,' this is what the crew would see," the Southwest Research Institute's Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the $1.1 billion Juno mission, said in a NASA news release. “In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon."
This clip even has an original score — by the composer Vangelis, no less.
Pale blue dot
Ever since its launch in 2011, Juno has been making its way to a 2016 encounter with Jupiter. To get there, the bus-sized spacecraft took advantage of a gravitational slingshot maneuver on Oct. 9 that came within 350 miles (560 kilometers) of Earth's surface. The two-minute video released on Tuesday shows the view from four cameras that are mounted near the tip of one of Juno's solar arrays. The cameras are designed to track faint stars and get the right orientation for Juno's magnetic-field sensors. In October, they were pressed into duty to watch Earth pass by.
The video starts when Juno is about 600,000 miles (966,000 kilometers) from Earth. Because the spacecraft was spinning around once every 30 seconds, the video frames were selected to provide a smooth view of the moon and our own pale blue dot of a planet, looming larger in the virtual windshield. The pictures may not be high-resolution, but watching the video does give you an awe-inspiring — and humbling — perspective on our place in the cosmos.
"Everything we humans are and everything we do is represented in that view," said the star tracker's designer, John Jørgensen of the Danish Technical University.
Hearing a radio 'hello'
At the same time Juno was watching us Earthlings, it was listening for us as well. Thousands of amateur-radio operators were enlisted to say "Hi" to Juno in Morse code, as part of a tryout for the spacecraft's electromagnetic-wave sensor.
Researchers at the University of Iowa, where the Waves instrument was designed and built, evaluated the data after the flyby. The review showed that messages were received during an early stage of the encounter, when Juno was still more than 23,000 miles (37,000) from Earth.
"We believe this was the first intelligent information to be transmitted to a passing interplanetary space instrument, as simple as the message may seem," the University of Iowa's Bill Kurth, lead investigator for the Waves experiment, said in a news release. "This was a way to involve a large number of people — those not usually associated with Juno — in a small portion of the mission. This raises awareness, and we've already heard from some that they'll be motivated to follow the Juno mission through its science phase at Jupiter."
When Juno gets to Jupiter, Waves will map the giant planet's auroral displays by flying directly through the electrical currents that generate them.
More outer-space views of Earth:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding +Alan Boyle to your Google+ circles. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.
First published December 10 2013, 2:28 PM