Slashdot had this today, tremendously impressive pictures of the Earth/Moon system and Jupiter, taken from Mars, the proper image credit is NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems. A bit mind-expanding; for me, it was the Earth and Moon seen in the same frame, from a distance, that for the first time made me feel like I really knew how big the pieces of the system are. Hats off to the people and machines who did this. But the pix are a bit too pretty. In fact, the photo-enhancement bothered me, so I deconstructed them a bit.

The site generously allows you download the 800K raw GIF so you can see the truth. When you do this, it's a bit puzzling, because you can't actually see anything. When you really zoom around and look, you can in fact make out a couple of tiny smudges. Here they are, cropped down and reproduced bit-for-bit with some context:

The Earth and the Moon

Want a closer look? I did.

Earth and Moon, cropped right down

I cranked 'em up so you can see the original bits; you'll have to click and enlarge. You still have to really squint to convince yourself that that's half the moon down there at the lower right. To make it a bit more obvious, I flipped the bits and cranked the contrast:

Earth and moon, reversed and enhanced

I'm left with two conclusions. First, those photo-enhanceers who dressed this up for the web are pretty darn good at their job.

Second, the original impresses me more. This picture wasn't easily taken, it's right at the limits of useful resolution. We are privileged to be living at a moment when the first lousy pictures of our home from way outside are trickling in, they are a lure, a teaser, a promise. Many brilliant trajectories begin as a smudge of barely visible pixels at the limits of resolution.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.


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May 22, 2003
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