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Here's Looking at You....


The NASA, NOAA and U. S. Air Force DSCOVR mission collaboration promises regular images of the Earth’s ever changing sunlit brilliant blue face starting no later than September.

The first of the images from the spacecraft originally christened Triana emerged this week revealing the Earth from a distance as a brilliant deep blue marble wrapped in swirls of shear white clouds that obscure brownish land masses with no obvious signs of an intelligent presence.

The Earth imagery, however, is telling the experts much more, while DSCOVR carries out its primary function, keeping an eye on the solar wind for disruptions that might interfere with terrestrial power grids, telecommunications, aviation and the reception of GPS navigation data.

“Just got this new blue marble photo from NASA,” remarked President Obama by Twitter as NASA published its first image of the Earth from the DSCOVR satellite on Monday.  “A beautiful reminder that we need to protect the only planet we have.”

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, in the midst of a near year long stay aboard the International Space Station with Russian colleague Mikhail Kornienko, was moved to comment as well.

After all, the original Blue Marble, one of the most famous space images of all time, was snapped by Apollo astronauts more than four decades ago.

“Turns out it’s quite tricky to take a good photo of the entire Earth,” explained Kelly, who should know. He’s taken and shared many from his home 250 miles above the Earth.

“The first challenge is that our planet is big. The only way to view all of it at once is to get much farther away from the Earth than we do for many of our activities in outer space,” writes Kelly in an informative explanation of the first Blue Marble image of the Earth. The original was snapped by the Apollo 17 astronauts on Dec. 7, 1972, as they embarked on the final moon landing mission in NASA’s Apollo series.

As Kelly explains, lighting is a challenge as well, one overcome by combining several images into a single photograph.

Discovery is positioned and equipped with NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera to overcome the obstacles to provide a steady flow of changing “Blue Marble” images. The pictures should flow every 12 to 36 hours as summer transitions to fall in the northern hemisphere.

Launched on Feb. 11, DSCOVR drifted to the first Lagrange point, L-1, about one million miles out in front of the Earth as it orbits the sun, reaching its intended destination on June 8 for the spacecraft’s distant check out.

EPIC combined three separate images using a range of color filters to produce the new Blue Marble image and a range of data for scientists interested in ozone and aerosol levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, cloud heights, properties of vegetation and the reflectivity of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

"The images clearly show desert sand structures, river systems and complex cloud patterns. There will be a huge wealth of new data for scientists to explore,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The Earth observing role of DSCOVR was originally championed by former vice president Al Gore in the late 1990s as a mission called Triana. Plans to launch Triana, however, were cancelled. The spacecraft was placed in storage in 2001.

It was removed from storage in 2008, when it seemed a worthy successor to NASA’s aging  Advanced Composition Explorer, which monitors the sun for disturbances.

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