Washington: NASA has just shared a new version of the famous “pale blue dot” image originally snapped on February 14, 1990 by the agency’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from its perch at that time beyond Neptune.
Now a class of tiny, boxy spacecraft, known as CubeSats, have just taken their own version of a “pale blue dot” image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot, NASA said on Tuesday.
NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached one million kilometres from Earth.
One of the CubeSats, called MarCO-B used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9.
That photo is part of the process used by the engineering team to confirm the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna has properly unfolded.
As a bonus, it captured Earth and its moon as tiny specks floating in space, the US space agency added.
“Consider it our homage to Voyager,” said Andy Klesh, MarCO’s Chief Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
“CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it’s a big milestone. Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly. We’re looking forward to seeing them travel even farther,” Klesh added.
The cameras of Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990, pointed back toward the Sun and took a series of pictures of the Sun and the planets, making the first ever “portrait” of our solar system as seen from the outside.
Taking these images was not part of the original plan, but the late Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team at the time, had the idea of pointing the spacecraft back toward its home for a last look. The title of his 1994 book, “Pale Blue Dot,” refers to the image of Earth in this series.
This “family portrait” captures Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from Voyager 1’s unique vantage point. A few key members did not make it in — Mars had little sunlight, Mercury was too close to the Sun, and dwarf planet Pluto turned out too dim.
NASA said the MarCO spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever launched into deep space.
Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 800 kilometres above the planet.
Though they were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.
The MarCO CubeSats were launched on May 5 along with NASA’s InSight lander, a spacecraft that will touch down on Mars and study the planet’s deep interior for the first time.
InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will attempt to land on Mars on November 26, NASA said.