Over the past several weeks we have received the first of the breath-taking images taken from the DSCOVR satellite positioned a million miles from Earth, at the Lagrangian 1, or “L1 point,” where the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun cancel each other out. As a result, the satellite orbits the Sun along with the Earth, always remaining between them, with a constant view of the fully illuminated face of Earth as it rotates.
DSCOVR’s Earth “selfies,” beamed back to Earth nearly 18 years after the project began, evoke memories of The Blue Marble image, taken on December 7, 1972, which until now has been the only image to show the complete face of our planet.
On July 20, the anniversary of the first moon landing, when the White House released the First Light image from DSCOVR’s EPIC camera, I felt the same emotions that I felt almost 43 years ago when I saw The Blue Marble for the first time: excitement, curiosity and a sense of wonder.
But, today’s set of images showing the moon moving across the Earth – a lunar conjunction – are really amazing. DSCOVR is four times farther from the Earth than the moon, so on those occasions when the moon passes between the satellite and the Earth, we are able to see the “dark side” of the moon as it passes in front of the live rotating sphere of the Earth, providing an extra measure of inspiration and awe.
These images — and there will a continuous stream of them starting in Fall after this “shakedown” period has been completed — have the potential to inspire new ways of thinking about our human condition on a planet with a friendly ecosystem now under threat from activities we can and must change. They will allow everyone on Earth to see the places where they live in the context of the planetary whole, reminding us all of our shared obligation to care for the Earth, and protect the health and well-being of our only home.