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News & Insight

NASA’s EPIC Camera Sends Photographs From A Million Miles Away

By Kishore Sawh on July 24th 2015


You may not be aware, but NASA’s first satellite images of our planet didn’t show it as blue. They were black and white images beamed from the TIROS satellite that did much for wonder and weather forecasting but didn’t quite quench our hunger to see what Earth really looked like. We wanted our men in white space suits to be photographers and show us what we really wanted to see.

And then they did.


Original Blue Marble

In 1972, from around 28,000 miles away, the crew of Apollo 17 reached a point on its way to the moon where it was able to capture a full color image of our little blue planet, and that photo, no doubt one of the most famous ever, was called The Blue Marble. It is a gorgeous shot of Earth fully illuminated (a side) by the sun. Since that image has been taken, we’ve seen many an image of Earth that appear to show it fully lit, but in fact they’ve all been composites joined together using software, rather than a singular image of Earth, until now.


The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), after many a setback, dating almost 20 years, was finally launched thanks to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket earlier this year. At a point of a million miles from Earth, about 4 times farther than the Moon’s orbit, sent back a full color image of our beautiful planet using the (what truly is) EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera).


[REWIND: Challenges & Rewards of Astronaut Photography With Don Pettit & NASA]

EPIC only uses a 4MP CCD sensor with an 11-inch telescopic lens, and in some fashion, its images too are composites, but of a different nature. The camera intakes its data using narrowband filters from ultraviolet to practically infrared. It also takes about 5 seconds to beam its images back to Earth and new images will be posted each day. The images should be able to tell us much about ozone and aerosol levels, cloud height, properties of vegetation, weather, and much much more – all because of photography and a little 4MP sensor…

This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system.

A bit frustrating, though, is that we can take pictures and send them back from literally a million miles away, but the WiFi in the house won’t stretch from one side to the next…

Source: NASA

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Arno Louwersheimer

    no one even notices the word SEX spelled upside down on the left side of Foto 1,2 and 4?? in the clouds??

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  2. robert garfinkle

    I’d like to see the equivelent of a go-pro-naut, a few of them. but packed with a joint venture set of sensors / lenses, interchangeable… by sony, nikon, canon or any well known mfr.

    each mfr would specialize in a different aspect of the equipment.

    they could be sent on variable missions, reprogrammable destinations which could be changed every few years… zoom here, zoom there, bouncing from spot to spot in the solar system etc.

    call it the gravity lens project

    with superior imaging technology which sole mission would be just to capture stunning images, no science…

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  3. Tom Johnson

    These pictures of Earth and the latest pictures of Pluto are unreal!! We’re living in a truely special time considering that we have the technology to see what others before us could only imagine. Wicked cool!

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  4. Peter Nord

    Have to comment on the wireless network remark at the end. I have an Apple wireless device that’s 4 or 5 years old. In my 2800 square foot house I have good WiFi in all the rooms, including the basement, and a good hundred some odd feet into the back yard. My guests come with all kinds of wireless equipment and have no problems,

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  5. robert garfinkle

    while I have my unit of measure system out of whack ( see above… ) I shall comment again.

    and keeping in mind this statement is purely contextual –

    a million is not a lot these days…

    I mean don’t get me wrong. we’d all like a million bucks, but would not want a million problems, right?

    when I was a kid, looked at the sun, it was within eye’s reach and did not seem far away until somebody said it’s 93 million miles thereabouts away – it became inconceivable again. Then got really confused when I found out that a particle of light from the sun only took 8.5 minutes ( roughly ) to get to my eyes. though the unit of measure is different I was no less bind-moggled yet 8.5 minutes was more consumable than 93 million.

    btw – and you can do the math if you wan’t ( or trust me ) the earth moves 18.5 miles a second through space in it’s orbital path around the sun. mileage-wise it adds up to 585 million miles. WOW!! ( Graham, are we in alignment on this factoid? )

    and now, thanks to New Horizons – 3.5 billion is really not that far… :)

    but a million isn’t a lot, right, as in mega, where if any of us had a 1 megapixel camera we’d be in pretty sad shape, yes?

    and a file on our computers… 1 megabyte in size, is rather small, so we are in good shape.

    perspective and context.

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  6. Andre Queree

    Better range than a GoPro! :D

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  7. robert garfinkle

    imagine it took 4 minutes, i think, for new horizons to send back images from pluto. such a long way 3.5b miles.

    sounds like the scientists sent up cameras that only served one purpose, and they were not interested in visually stunning photos.

    speaking of that, why is it, that with all the profound visual technology etc, we have, that the cameras on space craft, such as new horizons and / or cassini saturn mission do false colorization after black and white images are shot…

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