To the uninitiated, they may look like fuzzy white dots and blobs on a gray background.
But what you’re looking at is actually an incredibly rare snapshot of Earth and the Moon taken on Mars, 187 million miles away.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Orbiter snapped the epic images as it circled the Red Planet, capturing cosmic objects moving across the Martian sky.
The white dot is the Earth and the faintest spot is the moon. The scene was taken by the Mars Express spacecraft that has been watching the distant world for 20 years for water below the surface that could lead to signs of life.
ESA’s Mars Orbiter has been circling the Red Planet for 20 years and took a moment to look back. The probe captured a rare view of the moon circling our planet 186.4 million miles away.
The white spot is Earth, and the fainter spot is the moon as it moves around our planet.
Jorge Hernández Bernal, who is part of the Mars Express team, said: “On the special occasion of the 20th anniversary of Mars Express since its launch, we wanted to bring Carl Sagan’s reflections to the present, in which the worsening climate crisis and ecological makes them more valid than ever.
“In these simple snapshots from Mars Express, Earth is the size of an ant seen from a distance of 100 meters, and we are all there.
“Even though we’ve seen images like these before, it’s still humbling to pause and think: we’ve got to take care of the pale blue dot, there’s no planet B.”
The incredible video is a sequence of images taken by the super resolution channel (SRC) of the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), which is used primarily to observe the two moons and stars of Mars.
They show Earth and its moon on May 15, 21, 27 and June 2, 2023.
And the final shot shows more than half of the moon’s monthly orbit around Earth.
The June photo was taken on the 20th anniversary of the launch of Mars Express to the Red Planet: the orbiter arrived later in December.
Daniela Tirsch, a member of the Mars Express HRSC team at the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said: “There is no scientific value in these images, but since conditions allowed us to point the HRSC at Earth and soon after the VMC at Mars, we took advantage of the opportunity to create our own home portrait in this incredible mission milestone for Mars Express’.
The ship is a cube approximately five feet by six feet with two 60 foot long radar antennas.
It is photographing the entire surface of Mars in high resolution, producing a detailed color map of the minerals on the surface, mapping the atmosphere, and probing below the surface using radar.
The scene was taken by the Mars Express spacecraft that has been watching the distant world for 20 years for water below the surface that could lead to signs of life.
On the 20th anniversary of Mars Express, ESA shared “live images” of the Red Planet with the public for the first time.
Mars has only previously been seen through images from orbiters and landers exploring it, usually days after the photos were taken.
Around noon Eastern Time, 12pm ET (5pm UK time), new images were transmitted approximately every 50 seconds.
The visual monitoring camera on Mars Express previously discovered the evolution of a strange elongated cloud formation looming over one of the most famous volcanoes on Mars: the 20km-tall Arsia Mons.
Since it began science operations in 2004, the durable orbiter has given scientists a whole new look at Earth’s intriguing neighbor.
Now it is helping to answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water, and the potential for life on Mars.
The spacecraft’s high-resolution camera has returned thousands of stunning 3D views of the Martian surface.
An instrument has discovered hydrated minerals that form only in liquid water, confirming that Mars was once much wetter than it is today.
The first radar probe to orbit another planet has detected underground layers of water ice.
Another instrument detected enough ice on the polar caps to create a 36-foot-deep global ocean, revealing vast plains of permafrost around the South Pole.
Mars Express found the highest clouds on any planetary surface at 62 miles.
The mission found indications of the possible presence of methane, which is attributed to active volcanism and biochemical processes on Earth.
Its highly elliptical orbit has allowed the spacecraft to look beyond Mars to survey its two small moons, particularly the innermost satellite, Phobos, which has been studied in unprecedented detail.
It has acted as a communication relay between Earth and various NASA spacecraft, including the Phoenix lander and various rovers on the surface.
“The Mars Express visual monitoring camera, dubbed the Mars Webcam, was not planned for such a record,” the ESA shared in a statement.
‘His main job, 20 years ago, was to monitor the separation of the Beagle 2 lander from the ‘MEX’ spacecraft. Once he had done that and reported back, she trailed off.
“Like the monitoring cameras on board ESA’s Juice spacecraft, which send back images of instruments and solar panels being deployed, it was not meant to be a scientific instrument.
‘I didn’t need to take precise and exact images. And yet here we are.’