Nothing beats stepping back to gain a little perspective. NASA recently released a pretty picture of Venus peering through Saturn’s rings. The photo was taken on Nov. 10, 2012 when the Cassini spacecraft orbited the shadowed side of the ringed planet, so we see the rings and atmospheric edge of Saturn backlit by the sun. Venus is a pinprick of light nearly a billion miles away shining through the veil of icy bits that compose the rings.
We also have a more recent photo of Venus taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) from a different point of view. This picture was taken earlier this morning and shows Venus nearby southwest of the sun. SOHO is parked near the L1 Lagrange point, a spot in space 1 million miles forward of Earth in the direction of the sun. Here the planet’s gravity balances that of the more distant sun allowing the craft to hover in equilibrium with its eye ever focused on the sun. Due to gravitational tugs from the moon and planets, SOHO fires its thrusters every few months to remain in position.
Venus might look like it’s in the foreground in the SOHO image, but it’s really in the background. On March 28 the planet will pass through superior conjunction when it will appear closest to the sun but located on the farside of its orbit behind it. After that date Venus begins its slow trek back into the evening sky as it comes round to the left or east of the sun. Watch for it to re-appear at dusk in late May.
Let’s pull back a bit more. What do Venus (and Earth) look like from 4 billion miles away, the way the Voyager 1 space probe saw them on Valentine’s Day 1990? Dots of course! Take a close look and you just might be able to see them in the photo. They’re much more obvious the full-resolution image, which can be had for a click.
Before we wrap up, let’s move in again a little closer and enjoy a picture of the dynamic duo of moon and Earth taken by the Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft from 114 million miles away. While not shot from the planet Mercury, the perspective is nearly identical. Doesn’t it make you feel a little exposed looking at these photos? I mean, there’s so much nothing out there compared to the bits of something. Time to hug my kids again.