A spectacular photo of a fragile Earth was snapped from space by a visiting probe today. Our home planet appeared as a slim crescent, just like a young Moon, as the European spacecraft Rosetta approached from deep in the solar system.
The picture, taken from a distance of 395,000 miles by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera shows the outline of Antarctica and bright spots from sunlight reflected off pack ice.
The unmanned probe, which is busy chasing comets, was making its third flypast since it was launched in 2004. The close approach gave it a speed boost to send it on its mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
It is due to put a British-led lander called Philae on the comet’s surface in 2014. It will also pass two asteroids during its ten-year journey there.
On its last flyby in November 2007, red-faced astronomers mistook the approaching Rosetta itself for an asteroid on a near collision course. It took more amazing images of the Earth on that pass. Earlier that year it got another boost from Mars.
The probe will be closest to Earth tomorrow, 13 November, before heading back out into the depths of space.
• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.