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Cradle of Life As We Know It

Earth is the only place we know of in the universe that harbors life. Ours is the largest terrestrial planet in the solar system. Our rocky, volcanic world is coated in a thin veneer of liquid water, living things, and translucent atmosphere, whose complicated interactions make Earth's surface into a place of constant change. We humans have only had fifty years of perspective on Earth as a planet, of seeing it as a "pale blue dot" floating in the black vacuum of space.

With that perspective, we know precious and unique our planet is. We know, too, that we are having measurable effects on the complex interactions of ocean, land, life, water, and air, changing our climate. But predicting the future of our climate is hard. Understanding how Earth's systems work by studying the way they operate on other worlds is a major goal of planetary exploration. Mars, Venus, and Titan all have (or had) active geology, hydrology, and weather -- but, as far as we know, they don't have life. Is Earth really that unique? Are we truly alone in the universe? We won't know unless we keep searching.

News from Earth

December solstice: Viewing Earth's seasonal shifts from space

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/12/22 10:12 CST | 2 comments

It's fun to watch the seasons shift from space, and as of this year we have new ways to do that.

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Hayabusa2 views Earth and the Moon on approach to December 3 flyby

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/12/01 07:26 CST | 1 comment

I just love photos of Earth from planetary missions -- especially if they manage to get Earth and Moon in the same shot, as Hayabusa2 did on November 26.

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Two JAXA mission updates: Akatsuki Venus orbit entry and PROCYON Earth flyby coming up!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/11/19 05:51 CST

Akatsuki is finally approaching its second attempt to enter Venus orbit, on December 7; let's all wish JAXA the best of luck! And PROCYON, whose ion engines have failed, is still an otherwise perfectly functional spacecraft that is taking photos of Earth and the Moon as it approaches for a flyby.

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Earth's Place in Space

A Pale Blue Dot

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

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Pictures of Earth by Planetary Spacecraft

Many solar system explorers take dramatic photos of Earth as they depart, or fly by; some even have photographed Earth from the vantage point of another planet.

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The state of Earth observation, January 2012

As of November 2011, the Earth Observing Handbook counts 109 active missions to study the Earth as a planet, with 112 more approved and planned for the future. Jason Davis provides an overview of key current and upcoming earth-observing missions.

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Funding is critical. The more we have, the more effective we can be, translating into more missions, more science, and more exploration.



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Space in Images

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