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Amazing! STEREO-A Spacecraft Shows Earth, Mars, Pluto and Milky Way in Time-Lapse Sequence

Jun 24, 2016 04:52 AM EDT
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(Photo : ESO/M. Kornmesser/Wikimedia Commons)

A time-lapse video offers an incredible image of Earth, Mars, Pluto and the Milky Way galaxy.

The video used images from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory Ahead (STEREO-A) spacecraft taken when the space vehicle was on the far side of the sun earlier this month.

The images feature the Earth, Mars and the location of Pluto, with Milky Way in the background. The photographs were captured by STEREO-A's Heliospheric Imager 1 instrument under the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington.

"The HI-1 camera has a 20-degree square field of view, centered around 25-degrees away from the sun. The sun is off to the 'left' of the images," Karl Battams, an astrophysicist and computational scientist based at the NRL, told

"While we do have Pluto labeled in the pretty pics online, it's not actually visible in them - it's far too faint and small for us to detect. Earth and Mars, obviously, are easily spotted, and we're lucky to have a stunning Milky Way backdrop again. It was arguably more beautiful a week or so ago when it was better centered in the field of view," he added.

STEREO-A was on a mission to monitor the Sun's activity since October 2006. The spacecraft was performing one of its routine operations when the time-lapse sequence was taken, looking at the sun's inner heliosphere or region of influence.

The photographs were taken using the spacecraft's H1 camera and other instruments in the Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) package.

The H1 camera looks for solar outflows such as coronal mass ejections or when the sun ejects plasma from its surface into space, reported. The other cameras can get a closer look at the sun, either through blocking its light with a coronograph or through imaging the sun itself in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength.

STEREO-A has a twin spacecraft, the STEREO-B (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory Behind), which was also launched in 2006. They were inserted into the sun-centered orbits that trail slightly ahead of and behind the Earth.

In October 2014, however, NRL lost contact with STEREO-B and communication has not been regained until now.

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